Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos promised everyone a big surprise in his 60 Minutes interview yesterday, but almost no one predicted that Bezos would announce the creation of a Drone Air Force for 30-minute deliveries on orders. But just how realistic is this? CBS anchor Charlie Rose seemed to buy into it:
Color me skeptical on this, too. First, just how many orders are delivered within 30 minutes drone flight of a fulfillment center? I live in a top 20 metropolitan center, and my Amazon orders almost all come from somewhere else via UPS. Drones avoid traffic but don’t travel all that much faster than cars do, so a 30-minute radius is not going to be far from a warehouse. Operating a drone air force for such a small slice of the market doesn’t sound like a brilliant financial move, not even for a man who just bought the Washington Post. (Maybe drone delivery of the morning edition makes some sense, though.)
And that’s just the customer end. If this takes place on any scale, the FAA would have fits over the air traffic. It’s one thing to have a few drones in the air as a hobbyist, but it’s another thing entirely to have an industrial air force flying over houses, traffic, and electrical lines, just to name a few potential problems. GPS coordinates are getting better at pinpointing locations, but drones won’t be able to pinpoint a porch on automated runs, nor are they going to ring doorbells to announce drops, either.
Plus … why is this necessary, anyway? If customers need something in 30 minutes in the dense urban areas that this would service, they go to a store to buy it. That may not be practical in exurbs or rural areas, but the drones won’t be flying there, anyway.
This sounds more like a way to generate Amazon buzz on Cyber Monday than a serious idea. But who knows? I was pretty skeptical about the government’s crazy idea to set up a website to force Americans to use to buy health insurance, and look how wrong I was about that. Er …
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