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Explore the implications of Amazon’s proposed drone delivery program

Published: Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, December 3, 2013 20:12


Jeanette Chwan, The Spectrum

Many established customers of Amazon are replete with speculation this week on the future of their deliveries. On Sunday night, founder and CEO Jeff Bezos effectively announced on 60 Minutes the company’s plan to use drones to deliver packages.

The new venture is called Amazon Prime Air, and it has become the talk of the Internet in recent days – and the world.

Bezos showed Charlie Rose a video of a small octocopter snatching a package and airlifting it to a house before taking off again. According to Bezos, this is what the future of Amazon deliveries will look like. It seems like a futuristic plan, but Bezos insists on it being an optimistic plan – he feels confident the new delivery will be ready in as soon as five years.

He recognizes that the largest challenge of his plan will be convincing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to allow it. The FAA may be the most important entity in need of convincing, but it is hardly the only one.

Many have expressed concern since the commercial use of drones was legalized in 2012 that this shift could have a damaging effect. Some are concerned how this may impact Americans’ privacy – these drones flying around peoples’ homes will be equipped with cameras. And some are also concerned with safety – what happens if one of these drones crashes into someone’s child?  

Bezos has said these drones will be able to carry a five-pound package for roughly 10 miles. If implemented, he believes the new drone system would enable consumers to receive their packages within 30 minutes of their purchase. That would mean most of these drones should be traveling around 40 mph, according to The Washington Post.

It is understandable why this plan fits into Amazon’s business model. Most companies face competition with other companies based on the strength of their products. Amazon, however, competes in regard to its prices and the amount of time it can get the product to the purchaser.

Being the world’s largest retailer didn’t materialize from an idea for a product; it came from an idea about how to make money off other people’s products. As an entirely electronic commerce company that can be understood as essentially one enormous online store, Amazon provides shoppers an outlet to use one website to get an incredibly wide selection of products.

Utilizing the latest technology to get shoppers the products they purchase to their residences even faster is an extension of that original idea. Granted, use of drones for beer and fast food has been vocalized in the past. Never has an idea come from a source that many can really take seriously – Bezos has been breaking barriers in business since 1994.

Is he capable of breaking the barrier of persuading the FAA to allow use of civilian drones in national airspace? Well, time will tell.

Matt Waite, a professor at the University of Nebraska, has expressed his skepticism of Bezos’ plan. Waite founded the Drone Journalism Lab and his experience with the FAA has proven that they are slow to pick up to the fast moving innovations in the field. What they will allow in 2017, however, is a question that belongs only within the domain of speculation, but there are no definitive answers at this point.

One thing we should recognize is how embroiled the current culture has become in modern technology to the point in which patience levels have reached an all-time low. The speed of life operates at an incredibly fast rate – and now we want our packages within 30 minutes. What will be asking for sooner, next?

There are practical benefits to the notion of Amazon Prime Air – imagine if your laptop breaks the week of finals and you need a new one fast. Nonetheless, all signs point to the indication that as fast as life moves now, in five years it will be moving even faster.

As Bezos and the good folks at Amazon continue to develop their drone delivery program, and the FAA will be forced to consider whether their technology deserves the space of our air, this is a time to really think about what it means for drones to begin having a more visible and practical space in our lives.



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