Business, Economy, Money, Shopping, Technology

Is Amazon Serious About Prime Air?


prime-air_high-resolution01I had to check my calendar when the story first broke yesterday.

Yes, it was the 1st of the month but alas, the month of December not April. Yet I still thought this was a joke.

In case you missed it, Amazon announced that it had tested a new form of package delivery they call PrimeAir which promises to have your package – maximum weight of 5 pounds – at your door within 30 minutes of ordering. Kind of like the Dominos Pizza of online merchandise delivery.

The difference is this: while Dominos relies on a driver’s high-mileage 1999 Toyota Echo to get your bland pizza to your door, Amazon plans to enlist the help of drones (see photo) to carry package. Here’s the video of how it would supposedly work.

And here’s where the problems begin. I’ll go over a list of five things that I immediately thought of when I heard of this gimmick.

Problem 1: Liabilities
Have you ever tried to fly one of these things? My neighbor’s son had an AR Drone and all I remember seeing that thing do was crash into things – and hard. Granted, the ones Amazon shows being used in the video are nothing like the aforementioned models but still, I would imagine controlling one of these things would require patience and a good amount of training in order to have them fly safely.

And take a look at the photo above. Do you see what I see? Something along the lines of exposed rotor blades? Remember that scene from Raiders of the Lost Art when Indy is fighting the guy near the plane? Perhaps things may not get that graphic but all I’ll say is kids and animals can be very curious.

Problem 2: Crazy People
Let’s face it, not everyone is as sane as you or me. So let’s say Amazon ultimately decides that this is a grand idea and rolls it out to a few test markets. Who’s to say that said crazy people wouldn’t take it upon themselves to try and bring the drone down by whatever means possible? Idiots still shine lasers at incoming passenger planes so why wouldn’t they roll the dice and try their luck with a mystery 5-pound package? It could be anything from an iPhone to Q-tips. Then again, the seriously crazy people wouldn’t care about the package as much as they would reeking havoc on a remote controlled flying gizmo. It would be like the head of a trophy buck to them.

Problem 3: Hacking
Like mostly everything these days, a drone is a computer. On top of that, it’s got wireless receivers and transmitters on-board. It’s possible that these things could be hacked and the package delivered to someone other than the intended recipient. While I’m sure GPS will play a huge part in tracking the devices, I’m also quite positive a hacker could make the drone forget where it was last.

Problem 4: Bombs Away
While there is a weight limit to the packages that the drones can deliver, things can still go wrong. Suppose the battery suddenly goes dead or is starting to die and the drone begins to lose its power, the same power that probably controls the arms that hold the package firmly in place. If those arms suddenly begin to grow weak then there goes the little orange box. Watch out below. And hey, who’s to say that the aforementioned hackers wouldn’t do this very thing just for fun? Or what if the drones encounter bad weather that blows them off-course? So, so much that could go wrong.

Problem 5: Is This Even Feasible?
I’m not sure how many distribution centers Amazon has or how many markets they plan to roll this out in but it just doesn’t seem to make economic sense to invest in these delivery drones. We’re talking about delivering packages weighing under 5 pounds here. If someone ordered something they needed in 30 minutes, you can bet it probably wasn’t anything of significant value – or could it be? Either way, it doesn’t make economic sense to me, and that’s not even factoring potential item returns into the equation.

So Amazon, you got us. Your little delivery “innovation” seems like nothing more than a pipe dream or, which is most likely the case with Christmas shopping in full swing, free publicity by generating a buzz that included your name. It could just be nothing more than a commercial for the online merchandising giant.

We’ll see what eventually goes down in a few years but as for me, I just don’t see it happening. And if it does, I’m buying a hardhat.

UPDATE 12/3/13: That didn’t take long. Now UPS is in on the action? When will FedEx and the others join?

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