back to article Amazon floats 'Prime Air' drone delivery plan

Hot from The Reg's department of perhaps-a-bit-too-obediently-reporting-the-tech-titans comes news that Amazon.com has floated a plan to deliver goods by un-manned aerial vehicle. Amazon looks to have teed up a soft interview with CEO Jeff Bezos on US network CBS' flagship news magazine program 60 minutes. That interview “ …

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  1. Ken Y-N
    Black Helicopters

    If it flies over the rougher areas of town...

    This seems like a great variation on the crane game - shoot one down, win a mystery prize if it doesn't shatter into millions of pieces on hitting the tarmac.

    Black helicopters as I reckon they'll need the armed escorts.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    When I "floated" this as a use of technology...

    ...in the first year of uni, I did crappily in that module (Computing and Society), partly due to having an idea which was judged "not feasible" due to infrastructure costs (accounted for in the rental cost of a drone) and safety (as opposed to 140 tons of airliner).

    Time after time since that module, I see more and more companies showing that it's not only feasible, but for small loads at least, damned near inevitable.

    1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

      Re: When I "floated" this as a use of technology...

      I find it odd they thought the infrastructure cost was the big hurdle. In most ventures like this the capital cost of the equipment is fairly trivial unless they go through drones like bubble gum and I don't think it's fair to judge a drone by a video. The killer is going to be the cost of competing services and I find it likely that they have no interest in doing urban delivery this way at all.

      Consider in a population dense city there are likely couriers and delivery vehicles every few blocks. In an urban environment there might be 'hot drop' zones where a drone would drop a set of packages in front of the roving delivery vehicle which then goes the last mile. Where I see the most benefit is in rural areas where you don't have to send out a three ton truck some twenty plus miles to deliver a package weighing a kilo or so. Lets be honest, the long legs are going by traditional means and it's only the odd delivery leg that gets a drone because there isn't a standard delivery route that way.

      As far as nearby airports are concerned, stay out of any nearby TRSA/TCA just like most every other small/sport plane or ultralight would and be done with it.

      1. mathew42

        Re: When I "floated" this as a use of technology...

        > Consider in a population dense city there are likely couriers and delivery vehicles every few blocks. In an urban environment there might be 'hot drop' zones where a drone would drop a set of packages in front of the roving delivery vehicle which then goes the last mile.

        Actually I think the other alternative is more realistic in suburbia. A delivery van parks in the middle of the suburb with a dozen drones, slides back the roof and launch the drones. While the drones are delivering parcels the delivery driver prepares the next set.

        When I've considered driverless vans in the past, I've wondered how the parcel would be taken from the van to the door. A drone is a good solution because it doesn't have to worry about gates and uneven paths.

        1. Havelock
          Devil

          Re: When I "floated" this as a use of technology...

          This could be the wet dream for City Link and their ilk - just need a targeting system to get the attempted delivery cards vaguely near your letter box.

          1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

            Re: When I "floated" this as a use of technology...

            I'd imagine they'd go down the route of equipping their drones with missiles. Then just blast the front door out of the way, and carelessly toss the package in the vague direction of the still smouldering wreckage.

            At which point you'd be incentivised to tick the 'please deliver next-door' box...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: When I "floated" this as a use of technology...

        They're not called TRSA/TCA anymore. TCAs became Class B. TRSAs don't really exist. But point taken.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: When I "floated" this as a use of technology...

      Drones have come a long way in the last two years. That said, this still looks a lot like a solution in search of a problem.

    3. John Sawyer

      Re: When I "floated" this as a use of technology...

      Airliners will still be needed to get the packages to the distribution points around the country, from which the drones would be launched. Drones can't carry enough fuel to travel across the country.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: When I "floated" this as a use of technology...

        > Drones can't carry enough fuel to travel across the country.

        There's no reason why it couldn't. It just needs a big enough fuel tank, and therefore a big enough engine and rotors to lift it along with the payload.

        However at that point, the thing will become quite valuable for its metal and/or fuel content, and therefore it probably also needs some light armaments to defend itself against attack.

        If having computer-controlled autonomous robot gunships flying over the countryside is needed to preserve our capitalist way of life, then obviously I'm all for it.

        Is it economically viable? Compared to a lorry, you don't have to pay the driver. The other option obviously is driverless vans. At the end of the day, it just depends which technology creates the fewest insurance payouts.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: When I "floated" this as a use of technology...

        > Airliners will still be needed to get the packages to the distribution points around the country,

        No, no... that's what railguns are for. Probably gentler on the cargo than most airport baggage handlers I've seen. :-)

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    For starters Amazon don't need a patent on this. Delivering superior service at lower cost benefits Amazon regardless of whether or not others are doing likewise.

    Secondly, we can't really tell from this video how strong the drones are. Secondly, even if this doesn't work for DVD's, It's bound to work for other products such as clothing.

    Third: A token effort? There's a significant difference between not reaching many people, and not reaching everyone in the US. Even if it only reached everyone in New York City, it would still be a significant market. I don't see a logistical problem with rolling this out to any major US City.

    Fourth: Is this a serious point? Please explain how exactly you propose to deliver clothing or hardware over the internet.

    Fifth: I don't know how they're going to solve those problems, but various possibilities are coming to mind as to how they _could_ solve them. Safe distances / heights near airports could be established. At the height these things would fly at, flight paths wouldn't be relevent more than a click away from the Airport. Amazon could release an app, that allows communication between a smartphone and a drone, to facilitate arranging a meeting. The drone could refuse to release a package until instructed to by the correct logged in Amazon user. Trees? Really? I imagine the AI built into the drone will be programmed to avoid trees.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Serge

      Hunting Amazon drones will be fun. Most importantly, Amazon would never know what hit them. There are quite a few ways to scrape a quad rotor off the sky anonymously. School boys would love it. Just about the age group for toys like Amazon Prime Air. Local RF jamming or other defensive measures are not going to save Amazon from losing drones on a massive scale.

  4. Chad H.

    Finally

    A way to get stuff, without having to rely on DPD (Don't Plan to Deliver), and the other mugs amazon uses.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Looks like...

    Looks like my grill. Think it will cook up some steaks?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Pint

    Antedeliuvian

    FTA - "Fourth: The whole plan looks antediluvian."

    Agreed. If you look closely enough, the drone seems to be wearing a fig leaf over its private parts.

  7. Don Jefe

    It simply isn't gentlemanly conduct to rob FedEx trucks, there's a Human on board who could be injured by accident. An unmanned drone is an entirely different thing though. I see no problem with knocking them out of the sky and taking their cargo.

    They won't be flying high enough to be overly concerned with where they land, should be safe. I suppose one could chase a drone down with an R/C aircraft and force them down as well.

    1. ~mico
      Holmes

      ECM then.

      Given that Amazon drone is autonomous, and chaser drone is likely RF-controlled, a nice burst of radio jamming on proximity would do the trick.

      Of course, it can be avoided by smarter drone tech. There's one small problem though: you can do far more illegal stuff if you own a well-equipped drone, no need to chase Amazon drones carrying worthless iPhones.

      redacted the rest of the post: I won't give you drone crooks any ideas :3

    2. VinceH Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      " I suppose one could chase a drone down with an R/C aircraft and force them down as well."

      For added lulz, your R/C aircraft would need to be able to play a recorded (or relayed) message at the Drone. "You are flying over a restricted airspace..."

      Okay, so the message won't actually be heard by anyone, but who cares? It'll be fun.

      Icon: It flies.

  8. Haku

    Nice idea

    But the reality of creating such a drone that can withstand people trying to knock it out of the sky as well as avoiding trees/buildings/powerlines/people etc. just seems extremely daunting.

    How long would it be until someone gets hurt or killed by such a drone?

    You really wouldn't want one accidentally falling out of the sky onto a fast busy road.

  9. TheOtherHobbes

    Nah. Not practical for any number of reasons - flying time, payload weight, flight security, delivery security. (Is the Zon planning to leave weatherproof packages in people's gardens?)

    It would have to be cheaper than FedEx etc to be worth doing, and I can't see that happening.

    Good PR stunt though.

  10. DougS Silver badge

    Seems more likely to happen in China than in the US

    We'll see self driving cars before we see autonomous drones delivering packages to our houses. Amazon has pockets way too deep to not get sued for 7 or 8 digits every time one of them has an issue (whether a malfunction or someone hitting them with a BB gun or green laser pointer or whatever) and goes down on someone's head. Or goes down near someone and they make it look like it went down on their head, hoping for a payday.

    I can see a new sport arising: "guess which drone is carrying an iPhone [or other suitably expensive and easy to resell item]" Send up your own remote controlled chopper and drop a net onto the Amazon chopper, which tangles up the blades and causes it to go down. Presto, one free iPhone!

    I give Bezos credit for thinking outside the box, but just because someone wants to try something new on a big scale doesn't mean that his solution doesn't have too many problems to be workable. Yeah yeah, someone will say "obviously they've thought of these problems" and I know they have. They think they can overcome them, but they underestimate the sue-happy culture in the US, and people liking to screw with "the man".

    Yes, Amazon is just another big faceless corporation now, it is just as much "the man" to average people as IBM was 35 years ago or Microsoft 15 years ago. I doubt Bezos thinks of himself as "the man", but when you're trying to take over all of retail you can't escape it. He wants Amazon to be Buy-N-Large from Wall-E, you don't more "the man" than that!

  11. Winkypop Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Just how noisy are these flying critters?

    Can you imagine the airspace near a distribution centre?

    Kite flying anyone?

  12. king of foo

    Beep! 404! Delivery address not found...

    Beep! Whirr...excuse me, meatbag, I am looking for Connor, Sarah Connor...

    EEK!

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Terminator

      Re: Beep! 404! Delivery address not found...

      Well that blank-smile-of-death Amazon logo on the front reminds me of many robots I've seen which are about to turn rogue and start slaughtering their fleshy overlords. So you could well be right.

  13. Purlieu

    Dear Amazon

    I was quietly and happily planting escallonias in my garden, when one of your drones came overhead. It was making a sort of spluttering sound, then it simply fell from the sky. Unfortunately it landed right on my head, causing actual injury. After leaving hospital today, I have instructed my lawyers to pursue Amazon for compensation in the sum of $10,000,000 since I am now heavily traumatised by the incident, and I dare not even venture outside. Thankyou.

  14. James Smith 5

    Greate as a concept

    For a 30 minute delivery you're expecting this is great but would you really want it dropping your packages on your lawn while you're not there? or dropping it in the road because you're GPS coords were a little off

    I'd also have to fight the urge to kidnap the damn thing every time it landed, they'd probably need a drone recovery squad at every depot!

    I hope this becomes a reality, will be interesting to see what the final solution looks like, I'm thinking tasers and sentry guns!

    1. VinceH Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Greate as a concept

      "For a 30 minute delivery you're expecting this is great but would you really want it dropping your packages on your lawn while you're not there?"

      I suspect it'll be a case of being able to opt for this delivery method on orders for which it is possible, rather than a more generic delivery method - so that scenario won't happen: You'd only opt for it if you are going to be there.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    floated a plan

    elsewhere known as "There's nothing like free world-media advertising to write and talk about on a dull Monday morning. See ryanair scenario for details, as described in marketing how-to books, available ONLY on Amazon.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We could go on. But we'll leave that to Amazon's PR team as Prime Air starts to waft closer to reality

    Having seen this article here, heard a mention of Amazon drones on R4 Today program etc then I'd say Amazon's PR team have already done their job.

  17. returnmyjedi

    An Aerial Atom? I don't envy the poor sods in the Amazon warehouse trying to lug that around on their trolleys in the dark.

  18. Alistair MacRae

    A few problems to overcome

    Just thinking about how they'd get around GPS spoofing to misdirect the packages.

    I suppose there'd be health and safety concerns too with a machine flying over peoples heads with up to a 2 KG payload.

    I wonder if someone would try and shoot it down to collect the loot.

  19. Mondo the Magnificent
    Trollface

    Reality Check

    I know it's a "concept video" but no-one signed for the package.

    The homeowner doesn't own any crazy canines or felines that wouldn't think twice about taking that AmazDrone on

    The package was delivered to "Perfectville" so no rednecks with shotguns who would see that AmazDrone as fair game for a spontaneous skeet session

    Also in Perfectville there are no mischievous kids who would try and interfere with or capture the AmazDrone

    In Perfectville the weather is great and predictable, so no chance of the AmazDrone being rained upon or blown off course either.

    Vice in principle though, but I'd rather await the era of the Fedex android a-la the "I Robot movie": On-time, a lot more personal and polite.

  20. stu 4

    PR shite

    For all the reasons outlined above it'd never happen.

    By thhe pictures their octocopters would be able to carry a approx 2kg payload ok.

    But there is no way it will every be able to do that in the UK - CAA ANO is very clear on proximity to building and people.

    Apart from the fact it's clearly PR shite.

    Now - say, quickly and cheaply getting medical kit up to the top of mountains, bottom of canyons, etc, etc.. absolutely - great idea... but I suppose there is no money and/or PR value in that.

    stu (owner of 2 quadcopters*)

    *which are not fucking drones.... drones are big 5 million things that kill children in pakistan... and it'd be nice if the fecking press stopped calling rc models 'drones'... even when they do have autonomous capability, they are still at heart, radio control models thankyou very much

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "radio control models"

      Sorry to have to point this out but your primary differentiator is fallacy.

      The things you call "drones" operate mainly as remote-controlled craft and usually only fall back to autonomous control if communication is lost.

      We are not yet at a stage where even military types are comfortable with a computer having the last say over killing real people.

  21. Kent Brockman

    all they need to do

    is package this up, and licence it to Dominos.. pizza in thirty minutes... winner.

    Certainly better than the guy around he getting lost in his knackered datsun cherry..

    1. VinceH Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Re: all they need to do

      "is package this up, and licence it to Dominos.. pizza in thirty minutes... winner."

      Handy if you live in a high-rise, as well. Saves the guy having to mess around getting it to your floor - just delivery to the balcony. \o/

    2. sjaddy

      Re: all they need to do

      In fact Domino's got there first!

      http://metro.co.uk/2013/06/05/dominos-trials-new-drone-delivery-system-for-pizzas-3829035/

  22. Stilted Banter
    Thumb Up

    The only real fulfilment is self-fulfilment

    Logical thing is for me to have my own drone, which I can send to pick things up at a time that suits me. I'm sure Amazon will sell me one. I could also use it to pick up and deliver items for neighbours and friends. Amazon could set up a scheme for this and call it "ParcelPartner". For every 1000 successful sorties I would get an Amazon ParcelPartner voucher giving me 0.00002p off my next qualifying order.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Happy

      Re: The only real fulfilment is self-fulfilment

      There's one massive flaw with that idea.

      When you buy your new drone from Amazon, how will they deliver it to you...?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The only real fulfilment is self-fulfilment

        When you buy your new drone from Amazon, how will they deliver it to you...?

        They'll probably take the privilege of sending it to you on its maiden flight.

  23. Paul_Murphy

    Other options

    Bundle deliveries together and use the Amazon B52 delivery system - can target urban areas with the new 'package-let' technology.

    High speed and precision deliveries by 'Ama-cruise' - only useful for high-g tolerance packages

    Or the 'Blimp-Fling' (tm) which will catapult your package from our cruising blimp and be guided in by laser targeting - please remember to not look up at our blimp

    Amazona - a re-commisioned USA WW2 battleship will deliver your package as long as it is not larger than 16" in diameter, and the delivery address is within 20 miles of the coast.

  24. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    It's all very well landing in the garden

    But is it then going to knock on the door and pretend I'm not in, and carry the parcel back to some inconvenient location for me to collect?

    I reckon they'd be better off with bloody great ballistae; harder to hit in flight and much more fun for the delivery operatives.

  25. Valerion

    Inspiration from Harry Potter

    Just replaced the Owl with a Robot.

    Rowling should sue!

  26. Green Nigel 42
    Black Helicopters

    Is it 1st April already?!!!

    Or is the 2nd Dec the new 1st April?

    I didn't realise we were so short of news that this actually got air time!

  27. BigAndos
    Joke

    Skynet is here..

    Prepare for the robot apocalypse, only Amazon Prime subscribers will be spared...

  28. jdieter

    smart bombs

    why not just drop your packages out of a b-52 and have smart bomb type guidance for the chutes? Your packages just crash into your porch, maybe even right into your living room if they can break through your front window. :)

  29. Stretch

    Free DVDs with every Butterfly Net purchased!

  30. jdieter

    SANTA BOMBS!

    just parachute the packages right into your chimney! You don't care if that crap from China you ordered gets burned up anyway.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Alert

      Re: SANTA BOMBS!

      Unless it embeds a lithium battery… then you might object!

  31. Evil Graham

    Business opportunity for Ryanair?

    Undercut everyone else - as long as you are OK with your deliveries always being left with a neighbour.

  32. trashbat
    Black Helicopters

    You see a story about Amazon drones

    And you think, "cool, Amazon drones", but I see a story about Amazon drones and I think, "the very minute they can lift a person, I'm going to get inside their mothership like in Independence Day", and that's why we can never be friends.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Patent"

    One cannot patent a method or process.

  34. Anthony_Mac85

    The 10 Weirdest Things that Could Happen to Amazon Prime Air Drones

    For a giggle on this story read this, pay close attention to the images. http://www.tone.co.uk/10-weirdest-things-that-could-happen-to-amazon-prime-air-drones/

  35. Fuh Quit
    Pint

    Thunderbirds are Go?

    I'd say that's modelled on Thunderbird 2. Gerry Anderson would be chuffed!!

  36. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Sorry, but I doubt this will work.

    A) power lines, trees, chimneys, roof tops, street lights, parked cars. I'd be pretty pissed off if I walked outside and found that one of these things had pranged into my SUV while dropping off a package nearby, or crashed in my roses or fence because it lost power. I'd be incredibly pissed off if I or my family/friends was walking up the sidewalk/front walk and got whacked in the head by one of these.

    B) Privacy rights. You're out back sharing a moment with your better half and one of these things comes flying by. Did it record you? Is some creep back at Amazon now leering at your sunbathing teen daughter? If the angle is right, can it see in your windows?

    C) Documentation. "Our drone dropped off the package at your house". I never received it. "Your house is the tan stucco one with the asphalt shingle roof, right?". I live in a housing tract in California--half the houses here are tan with stucco siding and asphalt shingles.

    D). Noise pollution. Do these things sound like a lawn mower as they fly by? A weedeater?

  37. Vlad

    Free advertising

    Isn't it funny how they release this on the busiest Internet shopping day of the year? Just to get the name AMAZON into everyones brains a little more. Just like all of those pop stars and book authors who appear on TV at this time of year - and they just happen to have something to sell for the Christmas market. Cynical, moi?

  38. Windows8

    That's just what we need

    a bunch of autonomous bots flying all over the place wait until one get's hijacked and bombs start falling from the sky. Do we really need a bunch of bots zipping over our heads? If it flies over my airspace it will meet a bullet!

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