Amazon’s drones concept gives us a fit of the vapours
‘Personal injury lawyers are going to have a field day if one of these drones so much as scratches a pet, never mind maims an adult’
The internet went into meltdown after Amazon’s chief executive Jeff Bezos announced his “octocopter” delivery plan. Photograph: AP
It seems that, for most of us, the future can’t come fast enough. That’s the chief lesson to take from the astonishing reaction to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s announcement that Amazon is preparing an army of drones to deliver our goods and chattels. He made the announcement during an extensive interview on US television last Sunday night, and showed off a video depicting a helicopter drone called an “octocopter” serenely depositing a small package on to a neat patio.
Predictably the internet went into collective meltdown for a good day or so. The world couldn’t quite decide if this was ingenious or absurd, but it was certainly paying attention.
I couldn’t help but think that Bezos had just pulled the world’s biggest “O’Leary” – announcing some far-fetched scheme designed to impress upon customers a commitment to further embellishing that characteristic for which the company is most renowned. When Michael O’Leary announces his latest wheeze, claiming Ryanair is going to charge to use the toilets say, we might guffaw, but it sure reinforces the airline’s skinflint branding.
When Bezos announced his delivery drones, he was doing something similar – reinforcing the perception that Amazon is determined to think “outside the box”, almost literally, when it comes to delivering what we order online. Where O’Leary is reinforcing his genius for ruthless cost-cutting, Bezos is reinforcing his genius for supply chain management.
There is one significant difference between O’Leary’s stunts and the Bezos drone plan – it’s usually pretty clear O’Leary is just having a laugh, testing our credulity and getting some free publicity. With Bezos, however, I don’t actually doubt that he would like to introduce something like Amazon Prime Air.
The delivery drones represent the next stage of Bezos’s masterplan to render present-day brick and mortar retail a quaint, old-fashioned relic, and he’s just crazily ambitious enough to think it could work. The fact that nearly everyone else could immediately see all the problems such a scheme would present probably won’t deter him in the least.
And the obstacles are significant. What happens at the point of delivery? Does the drone also have to feature facial recognition technology to know you received your parcel? Personal injury lawyers are going to have a field day if any of these things so much as scratches a pet, never mind maims an adult. The logistics of flying them from huge warehouses into dense urban areas for a single deliveries doesn’t even seem to be economical. And above all, the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) is writing new rules banning unmanned aircraft flying a computerised flightpath.