So, Who’s Ready for a Sky Full of Amazon Drones?
60 Minutes previewed the future last night. Amazon is planning to use drone aircraft to enable 30-minute delivery of many products that we order online.
Charlie Rose: This is?
Jeff Bezos:…is…these are octocopters.
Charlie Rose: Yeah?
Jeff Bezos: These are effectively drones but there’s no reason that they can’t be used as delivery vehicles. Take a look up here so I can show you how it works.
Charlie Rose: All right. We’re talking about delivery here?
Jeff Bezos: We’re talking about delivery. There’s an item going into the vehicle. I know this looks like science fiction. It’s not.
Charlie Rose: Wow!
Jeff Bezos: This is early. This is still…years away. It drops the package.
Charlie Rose: And there’s the package.
Jeff Bezos: You come and get your package. And we can do half hour delivery.
Charlie Rose: Half hour delivery?
Jeff Bezos: Half hour delivery/and we can carry objects, we think, up to five pounds, which covers 86 percent of the items that we deliver.
Charlie Rose: And what is the range between the fulfillment center and where you can do this within…
Jeff Bezos: These…this…this…these gener…
Charlie Rose: 30 minutes?
Jeff Bezos: These generations of vehicles, it could be a 10-mile radius from a fulfillment center. So, in urban areas, you could actually cover very significant portions of the population. And so, it won’t work for everything; you know, we’re not gonna deliver kayaks or table saws this way. These are electric motors, so this is all electric; it’s very green, it’s better than driving trucks around. This is…this is all an R&D project.
Charlie Rose: With drones, there’s somebody sitting somewhere in front of a screen.
Jeff Bezos: Not these; these are autonomous. So you give 'em instructions of which GPS coordinates to go to, and they take off and they fly to those GPS coordinates.
Charlie Rose: What’s the hardest challenge in making this happen?
Jeff Bezos: The hard part here is putting in all the redundancy, all the reliability, all the systems you need to say, ‘Look, this thing can’t land on somebody’s head while they’re walking around their neighborhood’…
Charlie Rose doesn't know what a drone is? Sheesh.
This idea seems cool until you think it through for a bit. Amazon's drones will be eyesores in the air and electromagnets for lawyers when one of them goes haywire and crashes in someone's yard or in the middle of a street or, heaven forbid, kills a guy. Human nature can be a nasty thing. Lawfare is strangling innovation in America. Watch octocopter-chasing lawyers have a heyday over Amazon's drones and its fat wallet. Watch the newspaper Amazon owns defend whatever the company does. And watch environmentalists slow this whole thing down in court.
The hardest part technologically probably isn't building in redundancy. The hardest part is making sure these things don't become magnets for thieves (other than the aforementioned lawyers). Where you have valuable product moving, you have the potential for heists. These drones could and probably will become targets, especially if they're in operation at night. So game that out, and Amazon will end up working with the FAA to either create sky lanes through which its drones will have special permission to travel, which would be protected either from the air or the ground against theft, or they'll have to arm the drones with countermeasures.
When Amazon merges with Google to perfect the drones' accuracy, it's all heading toward SkyNet.