Amazon and drone-deliveries

Let’s think of some of the problems that have to be solved before Amazon (or anyone else) can make drone deliveries.

  • Given that Amazon’s deliveries are often to homes, it will often be that no one is there at the time of attempted delivery.
  • Drones will need a reliable means of  attracting the attention of a human when arriving at the delivery point – they can hardly knock on the door or ring a bell.
  • Delivery to apartments would be … er … ‘challenging’ – enter lift, press floor button, find appropriate door in lobby, etc. Where I live, Hong Kong, that covers over 99% of the population, so we shan’t see it here, or in many big cities.
  • Collecting proof of delivery would be difficult – signing a paper on a hovering drone would not be comfortable for most people.
  • Hijacking drones would become a sport,
    • Or even kids throwing stones at them.
  • The risk of drones hitting obstructions in their flight path would, of course, be dealt with by the autonomous control software, but experience would have to show that sudden intrusions into the flight path by other drones (or kids throwing stones!) could be coped with.
  • Mechanical or battery failure would require a fail-safe design.  Auto-rotation might be able to bring the drone down more slowly than free fall, but the risks could not be eliminated. Failure of one rotor would make the drone more dangerous. [Update:] I see the 8-rotor drones can cope with rotor failure.
  • The question of liability for damage and injury, insurance and collecting statistics on misadventures would need to be settled legally.
  • Invasion of privacy would be a concern.  The public would have to be convinced that any on-board cameras were not recording the passing scenery and people.  From a high vantage point the view would be into windows that would normally be under surveillance.
  • [Update:] Weather, especially severe weather, will interrupt deliveries.
  • [Update:] Noise complaints can be expected, I suspect.

Perhaps some kind of drop box with a lock triggered by near-field communication, that drone could open and drop the parcel in would be an approach to the actual delivery.

[From Sally Bean:] Notification of delivery could be by Twitter or text message.

Regulations establishing flight corridors and flight levels would help, and would surely be required by local and regional authorities.

Proof of delivery could be by recorded video – privacy concerns mentioned above would need to be dealt with.

Add your ideas in the comments.   I’ll be adding to this as other issues come to mind.

But really, it’s a joke, isn’t it?

Roy Grubb



4 Comments to "Amazon and drone-deliveries"

  1. Roy Grubb says:

    Developments on this:
    “Amazon’s talking delivery drone would ask for help if it fell out of the sky”

  2. John Cook says:

    Drones wouldn’t replace trucks entirely. It would be interesting to speculate what percentage of deliveries would be by drone. Probably a tiny proportion at first, rising over time, but never too large.

    The problem of someone being home to accept delivery is a problem for trucks too. Often they just leave the package at your door. This is less of a problem for drones. If you could order a book and receive it in 30 minutes, you only have to commit to being home for the next 30 minutes, not all day for a delivery truck.

    If it’s too hard to deliver to apartments, then don’t do it.

    Maybe drones could be used for special circumstances. For example, UPS uses golf carts around Christmas but not the rest of the year. A truck will bring packages to a neighborhood and golf carts shuttle the last 200 yards or whatever. Maybe drones could work like that.

    There are lots of legal/regulatory issues to work out, just as there are with any new technology.

    Seems like drones could be useful in the same way bicycles are: navigating highly congested cities for short distances.

    It’s a shame that “drone” carries a military connotation. It’s an ominous word for something that looks like a toy.

    There are dangers associated with drones, but they have to be compared to realistic alternatives. A UPS truck could run over a child playing in the street, for example.

    One use for drones that I’ve read about is delivering vaccines to remote areas of developing countries inaccessible by wheeled transportation. Imagine someone living in poverty on a mountain accessible only by winding dirt paths getting an Amazon delivery! Sounds far fetched, but some people living in such circumstances have cell phones.

  3. Sally Bean says:

    It’s an advertisement. But it could also be a cunning way of crowd-sourcing risks that they have failed to identify themselves and solutions to problems like the ones you’ve listed. I imagine the drone will send a text or Twitter message when it gets close to its destination.

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