Amazon Aerial Delivery Drones – Flights of Fancy

Media coverage is peaking today over online mega-retailer Amazon’s reveal that they are investigating using aerial drones to deliver packages to your doorstep within 30 minutes. The plans were presented last night in a “60 Minutes” TV segment on Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos. Drones are all the rage right now, from small hand-launched ones all the way up to military-grade drones the size of a large aircraft, and this latest plan by Amazon seems to be taking advantage of the current interest in drones for all types of commercial applications. While the TV segment showed a slick video of a 4-rotor electric drone delivering a small package to a house in the suburbs, Bezos cautioned that he didn’t think we could expect to get packages this way until at least 2015. While I admire Bezos and company for putting R&D money into the development of small, sophisticated aerial drones, I think telling the world about it at this early stage is just a smart marketing ploy for Amazon, especially since this was broadcast the night before “Cyber Monday”, the largest online shopping day of the year. When I think of all the technical and regulatory hurdles that accompany flying any type of drone in U.S. airspace, I think even 2025 (if ever) would be optimistic for this type of package delivery. Some other obstacles I can think of to this type of service: light-weight drones such as presented in the video would be susceptible to any type of wind; delivery to city and apartment dwellers who don’t have “landing zones” for the drones; collision avoidance capability would have to be incorporated to avoid flying into trees, power lines, towers, tall buildings, not to mention mixing with small planes and commercial air traffic; reliability, reliability, reliability….having one these drones crash into an innocent bystander would not be good for Amazon public relations; and, finally, anti-spoofing capability so thieves couldn’t electronically hijack these drones to steal the packages. So I’m not so sure how serious this Amazon drone research program really is, but it probably has already paid for itself in free press – I heard on the evening news that Amazon was processing over 300 orders a second today, Cyber Monday.  Jeff Bezos certainly didn’t become a billionaire by being a bad marketer.

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