“I know this looks like science fiction. It’s not.”
This was Jeff Bezos’ introduction to Amazon Prime Air, a delivery service that will use unmanned drones to automatically send products to your house within 30 minutes of placing an order. Anything under 5 lbs., that is, which includes around 86% of all Amazon deliveries.
A demonstration video depicts a package at one of the company’s fulfilment centres leaving the hands of a distribution employee. This is the last time it will see the light of day before it’s taken out of the box.
Then, at the end of the assembly line, is an “octocopter” (named for its eight helicopter blades) that will grab a plastic yellow bucket containing your order and fly it to a predetermined address within a ten mile radius of the warehouse. When we said Amazon products would be sent automatically, we meant it. Without even using remote controls or video monitors, Amazon has managed to complete their drone missions equipped only with GPS coordinates. Several redundancies, or backup safety features, ensure that the machine will not fail if one of the blades is damaged, and that it “can’t land on somebody’s head while they’re walking around their neighbourhood.”
That’s at least what Bezos claims.
In fact, the main obstacle for now is waiting for the FAA to decide the fate of unmanned drones, and their surrounding ethical and safety implications. For this reason, Amazon will not legally be able to launch Prime Air until 2015 at the earliest. More realistic projections indicate that this is a five-year plan.
Skepticism and mockery (or, perhaps, denial) have already arisen on Twitter, with some poking fun at Amazon’s creepiness factor, and others threatening to steal delivered goods off of people’s doorsteps. While these are possible scenarios, they might say more about society’s maturity level than the wisdom of the investment.
In any event, this is not uncharted territory. an American-made app called TacoCopter (whose name is self-explanatory) brought us into the future in 2012. In June 2013, Domino’s Pizza famously posted a video of their drone, the “DomiCopter,” in the U.K. Few may also realize that many real estate brokers currently use drones to provide overhead views of their listed properties, though this involves an extremely small geographic area. As is the case with Amazon, many of these devices will be collecting dust until government agencies decide on their commercial applications.
Regardless of the issues standing in the way of this innovative concept, it could succeed in changing the way we shop. As CBS’ Charlie Rose said in the “60 Minutes” interview, “Everything has not been a success at Amazon, but the successes far outweigh the failures.”