Are Amazon’s ambitions flying too high for comfort?

Discussion
Aug 05, 2015

As eBay announced the end of its same day delivery trial, Amazon was grabbing headlines about its vision of controlled airspace for commercial drones, potentially unlocking its planned 30-minute-or-less U.S. delivery initiative. Stymied by FAA regulations, which are currently grounding Amazon’s Prime Air service, the company’s proposal would permit high-speed commercial drone operation at altitudes of 200-400 feet.

The idea would have drones working under standardized communication protocols so that in an emergency or important situation a drone would be addressable and controllable via centralized cloud communications. On its face, the proposal seems reasonable, but the concept of a Jetson-like layer of unmanned machines crisscrossing the skies over cities and towns raises many, many issues.

The announcement came just two days after Kentuckian William Meredith shot down a private drone over his backyard. Although unrelated to airborne delivery, Mr. Meredith had concerns about the hovering nature of the device and took what he saw as protective action. Online reactions to the incident reflect the polarizing privacy/airspace rights debate around drones.

If Amazon’s plan or a similar one is enacted by the FAA, it could unleash a plethora of buzzing machines upon America. In cities, where there is already an overload of noise and visual clutter, the drones will add yet another compounding element. In suburban and rural areas where people enjoy a quieter lifestyle and are better able to appreciate open spaces and blue skies, drones could interrupt the tranquility, especially if they are passing over private property.

[Image: Amazon Prime Air]

The flying machines in question would not carry a life preserver to a drowning person, a defibrillator to a cardiac victim or providing visual feedback for a police or fire situation. They would deliver deodorant or a book to a customer to improve the retailer’s profits and market share and to satisfy impatient consumers bent on convenience.

With nearly daily reports of serious security breaches, what assurance can Amazon or any drone operator provide to government, law enforcement and, most importantly, citizens that the devices will never be hijacked and used for ill will? Will open airspace become the next congested highway? What is an acceptable accident/injury ratio? How important is it to give away yet another public resource to corporate profiteering?

Given the range of delivery/pick-up options already available to merchants, are the risks really worth what is probably only an incremental service gain?

Where do you stand on the use of drones as retail delivery vehicles? Do you share the security and privacy concerns expressed about the use of drones?

Braintrust
"I still see drones as a serious national security threat. It’s bad enough hobbyists are flying close to airports/airliners and endangering passengers. How many others will use their guns to shoot down perceived threats from unmanned machines?"
"Provided they fall within legal and FAA protocols and are safe, I’d be fine with a drone making a delivery to my home. There are security and privacy concerns with every form of commercial transaction today."
"Whoa! It’s not potentially the end of the world as we know it — it’s a way to keep the brand name in the forefront of everyone’s minds. No need to worry about Amazon unwittingly facilitating a coordinated ISIS attack on Southern backyard barbecues."

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19 Comments on "Are Amazon’s ambitions flying too high for comfort?"

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Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

I still see drones as a serious national security threat. It’s bad enough hobbyists are flying close to airports/airliners and endangering passengers. How many others will use their guns to shoot down perceived threats from unmanned machines? And for what?

I don’t view the tradeoffs to citizens not getting their deodorant by drone and resulting video bragging worth the aggravation to the rest of the 99.9 percent of the population.

Frank Riso
BrainTrust

While it makes for good press, I do not see the use of drones as a delivery method for retailers. I do agree with their use for emergencies for police and fire, etc.

I can see weight of certain items being a factor and when a drone crashes, and they will, who will be responsible? There are just too many things that can go wrong with the technology outside of considering the security and privacy concerns.

I am not sure if these drones are toys or a fad but their use in retail would be limited and so I do not think they will make a dent in the delivery side of online shopping.

Max Goldberg
BrainTrust

Provided they fall within legal and FAA protocols and are safe, I’d be fine with a drone making a delivery to my home. There are security and privacy concerns with every form of commercial transaction today.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

I am opposed to the use of drones until there is substantial proof they will be free of safety issues. What is so important about getting a book or deodorant that it has to be there the same day and delivered by a drone? Gracious, how lazy and dormant have we become? I am strongly concerned that drones have more of a negative use and that security will always be a paramount issue. Come on folks, get in your car and drive to your nearest store. It is probably at the next corner.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust
Whoa! It’s not potentially the end of the world as we know it — it’s a way to keep the brand name in the forefront of everyone’s minds. No need to worry about Amazon unwittingly facilitating a coordinated ISIS attack on Southern backyard barbecues. What is proposed is rarely implemented — at least as proposed. Amazon is doing what it does better than almost anyone other than Donald Trump — keeping the buzz going. If we step back a bit from the vision of the sun being blocked out by an endless parade of drones carrying discounted Taylor Swift CDs to the panting masses, we see the obvious limitations of the “all drone, all the time” model. For one thing, drones — or, more accurately, drone operators — have already proved themselves dangerous from close encounters with landing commercial aircrafts to college extra credit projects resulting in flying guns in public parks. So … while it is possible to deliver some goods by all drones and all goods by some drones, it isn’t going to happen, at least not on a mass scale. It just isn’t logistically practical. Just imagine the air traffic control support such a model would require, not to… Read more »
Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

I can’t say that I know enough about drones to speculate on their effect on security and privacy — they certainly have the ability to scare people, and scared people can be fairly dangerous. I am more concerned about the annoyance of seeing and hearing drones all the time. Instead of attempting to shorten delivery time I wish Amazon would invest in trying to find modes of delivery that would be better for the environment and easier on our infrastructure. It may be less flashy than 30-minute delivery by drone, but I think it could deliver a ton of great press and lower costs.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

In short I agree with Bob. Drones can be a serious security threat. Given the number of hacks going on, how long is it before some idiot determines that the best way to cause terror is to use a drone to down one or many airplanes? I’m not sure how it will possible to now dial back the private use of drones but I would suggest that it be considered.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Washington DC already sounds like DaNang in 1972 … there are helicopters everywhere, all the time. It’s hard to imagine even more hovering vehicles.

That said, the economics of drone delivery are still mysterious. The liability issues alone should keep retailers up at night. I’ll go on record as saying that it’s a non-starter.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

Amazon should hope my dog Blu is in the house or there’s likely to be one less drone.

Tony Orlando
BrainTrust

Who are these people who need something like deodorant in 30 minutes when the local CVS is a mile from them? Drones are already a problem, and my twisted friends will use them for target practice out here in the country. Amazon is master of staying on the front page of blogs, which I give them credit for, but I don’t like the downside with hackers and crashes, which will happen.

The guy that had beer delivered by a drone made me smile, but in reality I think drones have lots of potential for agriculture and guarding beaches looking out for sharks. Let the military do what they want with them, as they help protect us, but a million of these flying over big cities will bring problems for sure.

Tom Redd
Guest

Drones are for other forms of business, war and zombie tracking (if that happens). In my simple opinion drones are a marketing stunt that Amazon is going to leverage until someone says no!

If Amazon drones happen you will read about people shooting them out of the sky, hackers re-routing them and more. Let’s just ignore this kiddie route Jeff is on. He needs to worry about Alibaba and get off his drone kick.

Rick Moss
Staff

The drone movement is still in its Wild West phase. Clearly not all that can be dreamed up for commercial use should be permissible, but the prospect of moving goods around efficiently via airborne means is simply too tantalizing to leave unexplored.

As a city dweller, I would ask if low-flying aircraft are any more threatening than daredevil bike messengers. I admire Jeff Bezos and company for their conviction to push the edges of what’s possible. Yes, that level of innovation typically comes with risks, initially. But the tests may lead to safer and better methods of delivery if the government slackens the tether a bit.

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

Because the technology is here, doing doorstep fulfillment faster and better is a competitive edge, the time is right to at least start the conversation. Is it likely retail will be using this as a delivery method any time soon? Nope!

However, I do see the idea of using drones to get tools to a sailboat that is broken down off shore. Been there done that. Wish there had been drone delivery.

The conversation will help to define what is reasonable and what isn’t. How to keep the drones from being confiscated or shot down, now that’s a whole other conversation.

And that’s my 2 cents.

John Karolefski
BrainTrust

Here’s some straight talk: Using drones for Amazon delivery—or any other commercial delivery—is insane and dangerous. Has anyone read about the drones buzzing airplanes taking off from JFK in New York? Can’t we remain free from such inane technology “advancements”? Folks, we live in a world gone mad. One word of warning if tech is unchecked: The robots are coming! The robots are coming! Kiss humanity goodbye.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

Amazon has the best PR firm in the world! We’ve got drones, we’ve got stores, we’re doing deliveries in 2 hours, we’ve got party trucks, we have Prime Days—something new every week. Meantime, what’s really happening? Not much, they’re just dominating the everyday business of selling things to people. Look at their revenue growth—off the charts!

The rest is just hype, and as Chuck D once said, “Don’t Believe the Hype!”

Andy Casey
Guest
Andy Casey
1 year 10 months ago

I have no problem with drone delivery, but just don’t see any way whatsoever they can be truly viable as a reliable delivery method. Leaving aside for a minute national security concerns, these will be vulnerable to everything including (but certainly not limited to) bad weather, birds, buildings, power lines and mischief. YouTube will likely have to open a new category to cope with all the drone destruction videos. Not certain what acceptable losses are in terms of product and equipment, but customers will soon lose confidence in an unreliable delivery method.

gordon arnold
Guest

The air is full of traffic jams right now and adding this amount of risk may not be good for anyone without further testing and preparation. If the drone delivery services maintain their vehicles like many trucking outfits do, we are in for some serious mishaps as in a lot of them both on the ground and in the air.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

My assumption is that drones would need to be used for high volume, repeat purchase customers. For example, delivering office supplies and necessities to businesses.

In part, I do NOT want a drone around my porch. And, living in Oregon, a drone would have to deliver underneath an overhang which is dangerously close to people.

All this meaning that there would need to be developed a drone delivery location (perhaps a drone mailbox?). Certainly in the beginning only very high volume purchasers would warrant all that hassle.

National security threat? Absolutely. It is impossible to establish a complete wall around control. They will be hacked, it’s only a question of when.

Joan Treistman
BrainTrust

Right now, the use of drones as retail delivery vehicles or pleasure devices is risky, dangerous and threatening to all on land and in the air…planes and birds, for example. If retailers want to start a task force to investigate the upside and risk as well as supporting government initiatives to overcome safety issues then they should go for it. But random use of drones is scary for the time being and maybe forever.

Right now I’m at SFO waiting to board a flight. I am praying there are no drones in our path and that includes any drones whatsoever!

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"I still see drones as a serious national security threat. It’s bad enough hobbyists are flying close to airports/airliners and endangering passengers. How many others will use their guns to shoot down perceived threats from unmanned machines?"
"Provided they fall within legal and FAA protocols and are safe, I’d be fine with a drone making a delivery to my home. There are security and privacy concerns with every form of commercial transaction today."
"Whoa! It’s not potentially the end of the world as we know it — it’s a way to keep the brand name in the forefront of everyone’s minds. No need to worry about Amazon unwittingly facilitating a coordinated ISIS attack on Southern backyard barbecues."

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