Within the next few years, Amazon plans to begin delivering packages to customers using automated drones. These automaton quadcopters would be capable of delivering packages in less than 30 minutes. Packages under 5 pounds will be deliverable to locations within a 10-mile radius of an Amazon fulfillment center, which themselves are already highly automated.
Jeff Bezos sat down with Charlie Rose from “60 Minutes” to discuss his company’s new concept. After the interview with the Amazon CEO aired, it left people with a lot of questions.
While the technology behind Amazon Prime Air is definitely possible, the regulations behind it have yet to be solidified. However, the Federal Aviation Administration is working towards creating regulations for the use of civil unmanned aircrafts in US airspace. In November, the FAA set out its roadmap for rule setting in regards to unmanned aircraft systems, including the congress-imposed deadline of 2015. In the mean time, Amazon plans to ready its quadcopters in time for their potential approval in a few years.
Though the technology and eventually the laws surrounding Amazon Prime Air are feasible, there are plenty of issues to be addressed. As with any form of technology, there is the potential for malfunction. This could come in the form of collisions or spontaneous failure causing the drone to drop out of the sky. In order to combat this, and any other potential problems, the drones would need to be able to react before trouble occurs and adjust accordingly on their own.
There’s also the question of drop off security. It would be easy to deliver a package to a rural home’s front doorstep, but much more complicated to deliver the same package to an apartment in Brooklyn. In urban areas, drones would need to avoid the large number of people walking on the sidewalk as well as find a secure location to drop off packages.
The drones’ GPS-guided landing is accurate within a few feet, and there will be the potential for customers to set up beacons to further improve accuracy. This means that Prime users could set up an Amazon-issued “base station” on their property where the drone would be able to accurately drop a package. Despite this potential for careful drop offs, the issues with urban delivery locations still stand.
In addition, many people are concerned about data security and privacy issues. As with any other software-based platform, the quadcopters are vulnerable to hackers. It’s even been reported that someone has already created “SkyJack,” a drone programmed to find other drones and hack them in order to gain control of the device completely. As far as privacy goes, the public has already taken issue with drones in several instances. In Seattle, the police department shut its drone operation down after the American Civil Liberties Union cited that drones could be used to gather personal information. In Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this year, the city council passed a measure banning drone-use all together due to Big Brother-type concerns.
Clearly there are already fundamental issues with Amazon Prime Air, but if these problems can be worked out, the technology and the concept have the potential to alter the marketplace in the future.