Online retail giant Amazon recently announced that it’s testing the delivery of packages via unmanned aerial vehicles. It aims to have high-priority packages in customers’ hands in under an hour.
The service, dubbed “Prime Air,” uses robotic aircraft called “octocopters” to pick up and deliver packages quickly and with minimal human intervention. Amazon is serious about this, and it has invested substantial money in the project.
Far be it for me to second-guess a company like Amazon, but this entire plan raises a few red flags for me.
First, if you need something delivered within 30 minutes of ordering it, it’s likely to be fairly valuable. Do you really want to trust a machine to deliver it undamaged? Who knows what could happen to it while en route.
This brings me to my second point: Most people would hesitate to hold up a delivery van, no matter what was inside of it.
But a delivery drone? How’s it going to report the theft? How is the person expecting the delivery supposed to know what happened?
I’d bet people would be far less reluctant to hack or attempt to intercept an Amazon delivery drone. You probably don’t need any technical skills to knock one out of the sky. I’d bet a decent shotgun will do the job. It could be open-season on delivery drones for the casual thief.
And then we come to basic logistics — even the best navigation software is wrong sometimes, even the most mature technology has bugs, and mechanical failures can happen in any system.
So there’s a non-zero chance that your valuable property will go missing within that 30-minute window due to computer error — and since the package will be falling from the sky instead of rolling to a gentle stop in many of these situations, you’ll be out of luck. This is to say nothing of the effects of flying into a flock of geese or weather issues.
Don’t get me wrong. I think the idea is a “neat” one, and I think it will probably happen because it’s started to become something of a trend.
However, I think we’ll see the genesis of a whole new type of crime — and quite a few unforeseen problems. There’s also the question of what this will do to the basic economics of delivery, in particular, for delivery drivers and, ultimately, postal workers.
This will be one of those little things that makes our everyday life just a little different, and (like smartphones, Google Glass, and the driverless electric car) remind us that we are already living in the future.