back to article Drone expert: Amazon's hypetastic delivery scheme a pie in the sky

Amazon's plan to use semi-autonomous drones to offer fast delivery of superfluous consumer items has garned the e-retailer a lot of press, but the scheme may be more fantasy fluff than feasible. In trying to ship products from distribution centers to consumers' homes via the just-announced "Prime Air" service, Amazon faces a …


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  1. Graham 24

    Cynical - me?

    So, a large online retailer releases a fanciful story picked up by all the media on what is reported to be the biggest online shopping day of the year.

    I'm sure it's a complete coincidence, nothing more. Move along now, nothing to see here...

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Cynical - me?

      So you didn't see the story about how Ryanair would deliver Amazon packages by having passengers to drop them out of their planes as they fly overhead?

      Any passenger who didn't want to lean out of the window at 30,000ft would pay a 10quid breathing-oxygen surcharge

    2. SuccessCase

      Re: Cynical - me?

      Yep cynical, and perhaps having your thinking infected by The Register.

      This is the website the claimed The Liberator is proof there is no such thing as a 3D printed gun. 4 months later, a metal Sintering 3D printer, following the trail blazed by the Liberator, produces a gun of amazing and frightening accuracy power and potential.

      This is the website that put down the iPad on its' launch. How did that monumental vision of imminent product failure stand the test of time?

      This is the website that claimed Apple's 64bit processor was all marketing hype. But then the very next day it's shown how they simply lacked the vision to understand how 64bits would have a very real and dramatic affect on the performance of iOS devices (And had no understanding of for example, what it meant that Apple could use part of the 64bit address to implement tagged pointers). The iPhone 5S blows the competition away on performance (but not that you would know that from reading The Register) and it's little to do with raw clock speed.

      You see cynics understand the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

      Amazon is an incredibly powerful and energetic company. Their value to the US economy means they *will* get the ear of the regulator. When people do new and interesting stuff, they carry others along with them. People want to be involved.

      Nothing really worth doing in life is a piece of cake. There will always be challenges. Men flew to the moon once. Which means someone at some point said, we are going to put a man on the moon, meant what he said and then took action to do it. If they had asked the Register, the project would have fallen at the first hurdle as everyone threw their arms up at the "insurmountable reliability problems."

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Cynical - me?

        @SuccessCase - Tsk. What a waste. Start off with an epic put down on el reg - I really mean that, it was good - but then you waste it by going off and giving amazon a blow job and finally you peter out with some whimpering Dr Phil philosophy.

        Have a downvote for failing to know when to stop.

        1. SuccessCase

          Re: Cynical - me?

          And yet it remains true those whose default stance is something can't be done, never try and everything around us in the world of tech that has resulted in a new product, started as an idea in the head of someone who thought they could find a way to do it. That may be Dr Phil Philosophy (not sure who Dr Phil is) but it also is a basic attitude shared by the I K Brunel's and S Jobs' of this world.

          I get frustrated that so many in the UK in particular, fail to intuitively understand the crucial difference between adopting a healthy critical stance and fixing the dial so it defaults to snark every time. The Register is actually in a unique position where it could do so much good if it could simply avoid the latter. By all means maintain a generally critical and cynical editorial tone. But they could surprise us every now and again and do so much good with it to boot. To unfailingly go for the negative angle is a weakness not a strength.

          My personal rule of thumb is the Thunderbirds test. I try to remember what most boring executives would have made of Thunderbirds if presented with the concept before the finished product. Here The Register are running down something that is as cool as Gerry Anderson's conception yet, for this story, avoiding running it down isn't in any way a bad fit with The Register brand.

          I make no apology for admiring Jeff Bezos and what he is setting out to do on this. And I always admire people trying to do something new like this (Google self driving car, Oculus Rift etc.). If you think that equates to giving Jeff Bezos a blow job, so be it.

          1. frank ly

            Re: Cynical - me?

            " You see cynics understand the cost of everything and the value of nothing."

            I wish I'd said that.

            1. Turtle

              @ frank ly

              "'You see cynics understand the cost of everything and the value of nothing.' I wish I'd said that."

              You will, Oscar, you will.



          2. J__M__M

            Re: Cynical - me?


            I think one of us is failing to understand the difference between sarcasm and cynicism. If history is any indication, it's probably me doing the failing... but hopefully you get my point anyway.

      2. Mark .

        Re: Cynical - me?

        New most-expensive phone faster than older ones, shock horror. And when the next top end competing phone is released, it'll be faster still - same thing happened over the last year.

        I don't see what was wrong with criticising the 2010 ipad - it's an opinion, agree with it or not. All I remember was endless hype about how it would change everything, but tablets didn't even become mainstream until 2 or so years later, not with the original ipad; and now it's 7-8" devices becoming immensely popular, the form factor Apple claimed was too small.

      3. teebie

        Re: Cynical - me?

        "proof there is no such thing "..."4 months later"

        You do know that time moves forward, yes?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Time to start wearing a safety hat I think.

  2. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Replace UPS

    I'm sure a drone could drop a "delivery" note on the ground and fly off.

  3. Blofeld's Cat


    "He suggests consumers could set up a landing pad-cum-beacon in their back gardens to help guide the drones into place.

    There would have to be some way of getting such a beacon to the customer - perhaps they could mail it or use a courier.

    1. Martin Budden Bronze badge

      Re: Beacon...

      I was thinking that a smartphone app would do the job. Download the free app, log in, and it turns your phone into a wifi beacon to guide the drone the last 30m (the drone uses GPS coordinates sent by the app to get within wifi range).

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Beacon...

      They refer to something called a "cum-beacon"

      I'm not sure I want to be outdoors when it is activated.

  4. LaeMing Silver badge

    Arrrr me hearties. Man tha mini-harpoons

    I'm gunna pirate* me some flying treasure I am.

    *in the traditional sense of 'pirate'.


    Hmmmm. Shooting down delivery-drones for their contents would likely make a good GTA minigame!

    1. Captain DaFt

      Re: Arrrr me hearties. Man tha mini-harpoons

      "Hmmmm. Shooting down delivery-drones for their contents would likely make a good GTA minigame!"

      Animal Crossing has had that for years, though the drones do look like balloons. :)

    2. Great Bu

      Re: Arrrr me hearties. Man tha mini-harpoons

      All you need to do is order one of these:

      from amazon and you can use it to play "Let's see what the neighbours got for Christmas".......

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Got some free advertising on the BBC and more on "Cyber Monday"

    You can't buy it but you can make a well timed press release.

  6. Soap Distant

    All a bit daft...

    Poster above points out that the drone still isn't going to know when you're in. I suppose it'll work antisocial hours though - but they're worried about flying this thing into people/things/stuff - let alone in the dark.

    Far better idea (imho) would be to network with local businesses like petrol stations/pubs etc. Then when you order stuff online you could specify which pub/petrol station you want to pick up your item from - since you know you're not going to be in when they try to deliver at 1pm.

    So, wherever you specify your item to be delivered would have a code that you get sent to your mobile phone and see some ID to make sure the right person's getting your parcel. pubs/petrol stations could make a few extra quid by offering this pick-up point service.

    I know small local village shops have been doing this sort of thing forever. Seems a better plan to pick stuff up from your local than have to wait for some particular opening hours at a depot 10 miles away.

    Just a thought.


    1. Anonymous Coward
      Black Helicopters

      Re: All a bit daft...

      Poster above points out that the drone still isn't going to know when you're in

      I guess that depends on the degree of reciprocation on data sharing between Amazon and the NSA,

    2. Havin_it

      Re: All a bit daft...

      Sounds like a recipe for getting lynched by thirsty punters to me. Why not order a round of coffees while you're at it?

    3. VinceH Silver badge

      Re: All a bit daft...

      "Poster above points out that the drone still isn't going to know when you're in."

      As I pointed out in a comment on the earlier article, IF this delivery scheme were to actually happen, the chances are the drone delivery option would be exactly that: an option, on items suitable for delivery that way.

      When a customer is ordering something, if delivery by drone is possible for that item, they will be able to opt for it - and would only do so if they aren't going out in the next however-many minutes; the estimated delivery time for delivery by drone, plus a little extra just to be sure. The drone would know the customer is in precisely because the customer opted for delivery by drone - which they wouldn't have done if they weren't going to be in.

  7. i like crisps

    Not DRONES just Radio Controlled Pests...

    ...Can you imagine the combined noise of all those 2 stroke engines buzzing overhead morning, noon and night? a fuckin nightmare...although you might be able to sue Amazon for giving you Tinnitus...i'm off to buy shares in Hard Hats, Ear Defenders and Noise Cancelling Headphones.......and Air rifles.

    1. ilmari

      Re: Not DRONES just Radio Controlled Pests...

      Considering 30 minutes from clicking and receiving goods, I assumed they'd all be electric rather than internal combustion engine.

      Although, on another note, the challenges involved in making a ICE powered multicopter are kinda interesting, and as a side-effect you'd probably end up with a more aerodynamically efficient, and a more aerobatically capable vehicle :-) Sort of like a multirotored helicopter, instead of multipropellered flattened airplane standing on its tail.

      1. Rob Crawford

        Re: Not DRONES just Radio Controlled Pests...

        Can't use internal combustion engines in quads as they're steered by varying the motor speeds therefore electric motors have to be used (please don't mention an on board engine driving a generator)

        Also unless the recipient lives within a couple of miles of an Amazon warehouse it sin't happening as the range simply doesn't exist.

        As for ditching the parcels in the garden, that's bad enough at the moment with the alleged couriers we have to suffer.

        Proof of delivery may be interesting with amazon answering saying well as you didn't have a garden we fucked it onto your roof, by the way can we have our quad back.

        1. M Gale

          Re: Not DRONES just Radio Controlled Pests...

          (please don't mention an on board engine driving a generator)

          Why not? You can get surprising amounts of power out of a model engine with a purpose-built generator where the prop would be. Enough to run four brushless motors.

          Direct drive is also very possible, otherwise helicopters wouldn't work. It's called "variable pitch", and it's been around for a long, long while. Some model helis have completely reversible pitch so you can fly 'em upside down. Look for "3D aerobatic" 'copters. You'll see what I mean. To say that you couldn't have an IC engine (or four of them) in a quadcopter is to ignore tried and trusted (and ancient) technology.

          The drone doesn't have to just lob your parcel from 50 feet up. People who want the service (and I'm thinking business to business here), can pay rent on a landing pad that can sit on the roof of the office or wherever has sufficient access for drones and the humans collecting the packages. That or, as other people have suggested, use a drone to send the package to a point, and then use a van for the last mile.

          There's problems to overcome, sure. However saying that a cheap, reusable, low-maintenance delivery method is impossible using lightweight cargo drones is shortsighted at best.

    2. M Gale

      Re: Not DRONES just Radio Controlled Pests...

      Can you imagine the combined noise of all those 2 stroke engines buzzing overhead morning, noon and night?

      For a start, there's no need for them to be two-stroke. Or methanol-fuelled. You can get some surprisingly quiet model aircraft engines in two or four-stroke with more than enough poke to drive a generator to generate electricity for the main brushless motors.

      Quieter than the whacking great four-stroke diesels and reverse bleepers that announce Morning deliveries any other day, anyway. Or the screaming thousands-of-horsepower things that fly overhead every day around here, usually emblazoned with livery such as "Easyjet" or "Ryanair".

      Or the copper chopper, which usually picks 4AM as its time to do nightly patrols.

      You might need more ammo for that air rifle.

  8. Tromos

    Can't see these

    Can't see these being allowed in densely populated areas. Can't see these being economically viable in sparsely populated areas.

    1. M Gale

      Re: Can't see these

      I would say in sparsely populated areas, they'd be more viable than sending a 20 or 40 foot wagon with a single 5kg parcel in it. More viable than the old Transit Van method as well, I would say.

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Can't see these

      Obviously in densely populated areas an alternative delivery mechanism using giant trebuchets would be more efficient and environmentally friendly.

      In sparsely populated areas - who cares?

  9. Nathan 13

    Most stupid idea ever

    Like the government are going to allow 1000s of drones buzzing around everywhere. But more importantly the technology to do this is decades away at best!!

  10. Oengus


    Get Amazon to deliver these

    so you can shoot the drone down as it leaves.

    By all accounts there are locations in the US where it is legal to use these shells to shoot down drones.

  11. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Using drones to deliver small items? This is a very bad idea - it will really really mess with the game mechanics of Atari's 'Paperboy'.

  12. Thorne

    How long?

    Until terrorists start using these to deliver bombs? As soon as they do, all drone businesses disappear...

    1. M Gale

      Re: How long?

      Which is the first thing that will happen to UPS as soon as someone uses it to deliver a parcel load of semtex with a timed detonation mechanism, of course.

      Or of course, that could be complete crap.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    never-ending consumption of Chinese-made crapola

    thank you! That said, technological development is driven by the never-ending consumption.

    Ah, well, saving lives too, i.e. to pick up our guys from the battlefield. Still, sooner or later they'll be either self-repairable bots or disposable ones....

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No sh*t Sherlock

    Bezos has been taking lesson from O'Leary

  15. Florida1920

    Twas the night before Xmas - revised version

    'Twas the night before Xmas

    And all through the town

    Not a creature was stirring

    'Cept an Amazon drone.

  16. TheProf

    Free Drone!

    Great! Order a £4.99 paper-back and keep the drone. A quick hack and, what, it only runs on Amazon's 'Whispernet'?

  17. Chad H.

    I think the writer really underestimates how bad the courier companies really are... they're no more reliable than a drone today.

  18. Number6

    Bears with Arms

    So is a country where it's considered a basic right to own a gun the best place to operate a drone fleet? I wonder how many they'll lose to gunfire? I'd think it would be open season if you lived near a distribution centre and these things were forever flying over your house. Even a piece of rope with a weight on each end would probably do it, and would be far more fun and challenging, too.

    1. M Gale

      Re: Bears with Arms

      I'm sure all of those pilots taking off from metropolitan airports every day live in fear of some fuckwit taking pot shots at the evil flying metal demons.

      Or not.

      1. Florida1920

        Re: Bears with Arms

        Small planes flying in rural areas occasionally suffer from ground fire. Texas, naturally:

        And Alabammy:

        Don't worry, Bezos, the FAA is on the case.

    2. J__M__M

      Re: Bears with Arms

      Are you seriously saying that a Saturday afternoon spent picking off Amazon drones like they were clay pigeons wouldn't be a total blast?

      If you answered yes, I totally don't believe you.

      1. FutureShock999

        Re: Bears with Arms

        There would be informal competitions, with video posted to YouTube...

        Having said that, I have just ordered a laser sight for my Beretta 12 guage... ;-)

  19. Ralph B

    That "quadcopter decapitation"

    That "quadcopter decapitation" story would appear to be an amalgamation of two different stories:

    1) a guy in Brooklyn who managed to kill himself with this own radio-controlled helicopter (note, not quadcopter);

    2) a small drone (Phantom quadcopter) which crashed onto the streets of Manhattan injuring no-one.

    That's not to say that Amazon PrimeAir quadcopters ploughing through the New York crowds won't kill a few people. But it hasn't happened yet.

    And since the whole concept is anyway about as realistic as Waterstones' delivery-by-owl proposal, I don't think it's very likely going to happen either.

    1. Fogcat

      Re: That "quadcopter decapitation"

      "That "quadcopter decapitation" story would appear to be an amalgamation of two different stories:"

      I'd just done my own research on that having wondered how big a quad copter must be to have rotors that could decapitate. And I'd come to the same conclusion - that it hadn't happened. Tsk tsk Reg, I don't expect urban legends from you.

  20. Alan 6

    What kind of batteries will these drones using

    The best non-military quadracopters I've seen have about 25 minutes battery life, when coupled with an airspeed of around 10m/s (22.5mph, this seems to be the speed of the priciest models I've seen) you have a 4.6 mile range at best.

    Now considering most Amazon warehouses are housed well away from populated areas, just how many of their "must have this NOW" hipster customers will live within the 30 minute delivery window.

    I fall into the cynical "this is just Cyber Monday marketing hype" camp...

    1. Ralph B

      Re: What kind of batteries will these drones using

      Indeed. I think Amazon would have more success with delivery-by-trebuchet.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    First things first

    Bezos should avoid day dreaming for a few minutes and stop Amazon using carriers that cant track deliveries. An end to "this will be delivered sometime between 9am and 9pm please".

    1. Stacy

      Re: First things first

      Or delivery companies that drop packages into compost bins to keep them safe when no one is home...

      (Lovely way to delivery my mums 60th birthday present, Everyone is just happy that the bin wasn't being emptied on that day)

  22. Randy Hudson

    Quad copter death?

    I have yet to see a quad copter with 2-foot long blades on it. The death was caused by a helicopter.

  23. Imsimil Berati-Lahn

    How fast can these things fly??!!

    My nearest Amazon "fulfilment centre" (sounds more like a fancy name for a brothel if you asked me, but anyway...) is Swansea, a full 80 miles away as the multi-rotor-crow flies, assuming it can make it over the Brecons. Even if the pick, pack and pre-flight process is >instant<, that thing will still have to pull an average 160mph to get my Chinese-crapola to me in 30 minutes. I would not want to get in its way.

  24. Richard_L

    I think that the big news here is the epic increase in local warehousing that Amazon would need to fulfil the supposed 30 minute Prime Air delivery promise. No more scattered regional mega-warehouses as quads can't currently fly for longer than about 30 minutes, and their speed isn't great either. I think that it might be appropriate to think of quads employed like this as the milk floats of the 21st century. Every town or city borough wanting the service will need a depot for them to hold the stock they distribute, service and recharge them, And if you live in the countryside, well, tough...

    And if this is a genuine Amazon project and not just a bit of Cyber Monday advertising inveigled into the 6 o'clock news then I can't see quads in their current form really being viable for this. I read an article recently that suggested that a different quad configuration - one main heli-style rotor providing most of the lift, with 3 smaller rotors for control - could provide maybe a 25% increase in range or endurance. However I think that ultimately it will be developing tilt-rotor designs that will enable a business proposition like this to stand a chance of succeeding - the greater range and speed offered by fixed wing flight coupled with the manouverability of a heli for urban take-off and landing.

  25. fajensen Silver badge

    Whine, Whinge, Whine

    All of the "insurmountable" problems were solved decades ago, with 1970's computers, and no GPS - with the AGM-86B. You have got to ask: What market can afford USD 100000 drones, that are sometimes lost, do not bother asking The Authorities, need short time change of pick-up location, and have a competitive advantage in Seller and Buyer never meeting?

    That is right: The drugs business, with 5 kg of smack on board the cost of a customs-evading drone flight is like a postage stamp!

  26. Fatman Silver badge

    Amazon "Prime Air"

    Correction required:

    In trying to ship products from distribution centers to consumers' homes via the just-announced "Prime Air" service, Amazon faces a number of critical technical and regulatory challenges that could cause headaches for Bezos Bozos & Co.


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