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Amazon Prime Air (amazon.com)
1412 points by wyclif 1416 days ago | hide | past | web | 588 comments | favorite

(Disclaimer: I work for Amazon, but not for anything related to this. This is the first time I'm learning of Prime Air.)

I'm somewhat disheartened by the skepticism of a lot of comments from HN, Reddit, and Twitter. Not stuff like "I wonder how they'll handle adverse weather" (which I think is intellectually interesting) but stuff like "As soon as one of these kills a dog it's done for". What merit is there in rooting for failure for failure's sake? This feels like science fiction in the best way possible.

I have no idea whether or not this will work, but I sure hope it does. It's incredibly exciting.

What, just a story to make sure Amazon dominates the media on Cyber Monday? I'd say your analysis is bang on.

The lesson to learn here, folks, is that this is one of those themes that just keeps on giving. Any time you need some quick publicity, reach for a drone...

The fact that it's very obviously timed to give a PR boost doesn't mean it's fake. They may very well be working on this, hoping that it succeeds, and looking for a PR boost.

In fact, given that they were working on it, one would expect them to announce it when it would give the most positive buzz possible.

You sure get an award for being optimistic, but I shall have to take away any certification you may have for being realistic.

The smoking gun on this is announcing a new service on a Sunday evening. No-one does that. Unless, say, it happens to be Cyber Monday the next day.

This is exciting but a little too early for its time. Four months early to be specific.

So, in other words, you think that they're outright lying about doing any development?

Nope they are delusional about the 2015 timeline they talk about on their website

Helicopters (used for media coverage, passenger transport and medical emergency) provide the perfect template for the Aviation Authority and Amazon to base a framework of operation on.

The main considerations will be:

- Set routes/paths the drones must follow, taking I to account altitudes that minimise traffic with other things high up (buildings, aircraft, UFOs) - emergency procedures and a risk assessment for each foreseeable eventuality (not that hard considering the lack of other traffic 'up there') - limits on the amount of drones in the air within constrained geographic localities.

It is likely that this could all be agreed for a single trial city well before 2015 rolls around. This isn't rocket science...

I don't know about America but in the UK aviation authorities already permit flying models [1] and aerial work such as photography if certain requirements are met [2]. Regulators are understandably keen on collision avoidance, so they usually say UAVs must stay within the operator's line of sight - or have a 'sense and avoid' system. The UK's CAA "is not currently aware of any Sense-and-Avoid system with adequate performance and reliability" [3]

So, that's the regulatory challenge. Need to sense and avoid obstacles and other aircraft, and do a good enough job of it that aviation authorities will sign off on it.

(In addition to the regulatory challenge, there may also be business, operational and engineering challenges.)

[1] http://www.caa.co.uk/default.aspx?catid=1416&pageid=8153 [2] http://www.caa.co.uk/default.aspx?catid=1995&pageid=11213 [3] http://www.caa.co.uk/default.aspx?catid=1995&pageid=11186

Am I in the minority in thinking this is fantastic marketing? If you were Amazon, why wouldn't you leverage an interesting R&D project on the eve of your biggest day of the year? Regardless of how pie-in-the-sky this might be, I don't understand all the cynicism.

Worked great for Obama :)

And of course the counter-story:

http://www.rcgroups.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1144377 (page 5+ is most interesting)

These are injuries caused by helicopters, drones, quadcopters etc. I don't want that shit floating around me. They are seriously dangerous bits of kit. Yes I know the "versus cars" argument but cars don't intentionally fall out of the sky on you and have roads to go on.

Drones don't intentionally fall "on you" either. By the numbers cars are probably the second most dangerous thing you interact with day-to-day (cheeseburgers being the first). Safe travel - especially safe failure - is obviously an important concern, but can we at least bring up some rational evaluation?

Well they fail to prevent falling on you very well as the link shows. A lot of the accidents are from spurious behaviour and unrecoverable flight profiles.

I can't help but growl QUAD DAMAGE!! reading those forum posts. Ouch.

When regs do come out they will most likely have to stay over roads and can't just cut through someones yard.

When it fails an air bladder will inflate minimizing the speed and force that it lands. Like, http://www.hovding.com/en/how_it_works/

Motors will have a lockout that stops it from spinning when it comes into contact with flesh. http://www.sawstop.com

This technology is way more than 2 years off. The FAA isn't just going to print out a pamphlet and say everything is OK. Machines are dangerous and nothing I see in any of the latest tech even comes close to the reliability or safety that will be necessary.

Lord knows there's no use for an automobile, when you consider the danger it poses compared to the reliable horse.

If we had flying cars with chainsaws at each corner, I'd agree.

It's totally worth it. just force them to be computer controlled when flying low altitude in densely populated areas.

Computers are controlled by programs written by humans.



The list goes on...

Those companies are very different from Amazon.

Sure, but I'm into politics, so I've learned to judge by results rather than claims and reputation.

And there isn't a drone on my doorstep yet.

If there ever will be one, someone needs to announce it first. And if the timing is commercially interesting for Amazon, that just reflect the fact that Amazon is a company with financial intereste, just like any other company.

what's even more exciting to me is that they could develop their own complete distribution system by pushing cheap drones out to the edge of their network.


with barely any people in the entire process to slow things down and make it expensive.

Either that, or disruptive innovation that media has picked up.

> What merit is there in rooting for failure for failure's sake?

You must be new to Hacker News…

Okay, but comments on this post seem to be particularly insufferable.

HN is usually filled with poor attempts at being clever; rarely is it ever so completely contradictory and illogical.

The truth is, drone delivery was discussed already here on HN. A lot of the details were already envisioned and suggested.

A lot of the commenters on this thread think it's a new idea or its's new here on HN. This is a good PR move for Amazon(edit: equal to Google's self driving car in PR power). It's likely they got inspired by some of the HN discussions. I hope they don't invent silly patents around it, such as "one flight delivery".

You give HN and its small eco-chamber way too much credit.

This. I don't think it's realized how insignificant to the real world our discussions are sometimes (note: sometimes). They are lovely, intellectual, and interesting, but not as important as you go about your day thinking they are.

Further, discovery of old discussion of topics is discouraged by the HN user experience. The only way for the OP to know it had been discussed is to have HN always tapped in. Since for most of us this is untenable (I hope most people here have better things during the day than to do than camp the HN trending board) the implication is incredibly exclusionary to most of the potential contributing population.


there is no evidence hacker news had anything at all to do with this idea. Also, just because people are excited about an idea doesn't make them naïve about it's freshness.

I'm certain drone delivery has been discussed by many countless people, most of whom the acronym HN means nothing to.

As I remember, this was discussed sometime ago on HN. I dont remember exact link posted on HN but here is techcruch article of a start-up that was discussed on HN


Heck, Bruce Sterling had delivery by drones (albeit drone pogo sticks[think regenerative bouncing]) back in the '90s.

Most people don't camp HN and probably won't know how often a topic has been discussed here.

And, while "one flight delivery"/lame marketing patents would indeed be dumb, I kinda want to see a grid of drones tossing boxes to each other mid-air like acrobats. I think that would be sweet.

Or old.

Hacker News on Dropbox: Why would anyone want this? I can do this already with my home PC, all I need to do is install package xyz and let it run in the background. How does this handle duplicates, this is doomed to fail.

I really feel like amazon's service should be called dropbox too.

Dropbox is for people that can't use rsync+git. For the unix-competent, it's not particularly difficult and we managed for many years with the previous tools, rsync+svn or even rsync+cvs

Yeah I really miss the good old days when I could take some pictures and all I had to do to send them to my mom was provision a server with a static IP address I could send her along with some links to rsync tutorials. Can't believe Dropbox had to come around and make everything so much harder...

I'm not sure which one is sarcasm anymore.

Don't be silly, all you had to do was just install and configure Apache, and then harden it against 37 types of DOS and malware intrusions and SQL injection.

I can use rsync and git, and use it for some things. But I'm perfectly happy to use Dropbox too. I like it because it Just Fucking Works on every platform I'm on.

The way I look at it, I've got limited time. I can spend it fucking around duplicating infrastructure, or I can spend it on something that matters more to me.

Guess what? There are millions of people that can't use rsync + git.

And they don't read HN either, for the most part. You're not getting anything like a cross-section of opinion of the population here, on any topic.

I'm among those who don't see any need for Dropbox, but readily admit that obviously millions of others do.

And they're all willing to pay ~$10/month for it to Just Fucking Work. Build things that solve people's problems.

That's only if you need MORE storage. Heck i am happy with my data limit, and yes, the major attraction is the "Just Fucking Works" part. Its the usability factor. Just cuz you CAN write your own web browser, doesn't mean you wouldn't use firefox or chrome

Dropbox is free for the vast majority of people.

Rsync is one-way. Git stores all files twice, and is a pain to purge old versions from. Both require scanning every file per sync, leading to wasted power and minutes of latency.

They do not do what dropbox does.

And for people who have to communicate with people who can't/won't/don't use rsync+git.

Hell, CmdrTaco on iPod...

To be fair, I don't really remember the first generation of the ipod being that successful. It wasn't until the ipod mini came out, a vastly superior product to the original ipod, that it became a must have gadget.

It should be noted that CmdrTaco never said his opinion applied to most people. He thought it was lame, and to him, it was.

Reviewers and journalists are held responsible for their opinions to a greater degree than people operating purely as individuals. Cmdr Taco said it was lame, and some people were relying on him to have an informed opinion - and he felt this opinion was well founded enough to broadcast it to thousands of people.

He was neither a reviewer (the product was not even available) nor a journalist. And his opinion was well founded. The iPad didn't have wireless, it did have less space than a Nomad, and "lame" is pure personal opinion.

That post is always trotted out (particularly on HN) as an example of how normal "nerds" are so disconnected from the general public, but what it ignores is that not everyone cares about what the general public will buy. Not everyone is a startup founder looking to sell gadgets to Average Joe. Some of us are just looking from the perspective of our own lives, and there's nothing inherently wrong with that.

Guess what: for CmdrTaco, and probably for many on Slashdot, the iPod was a crappy player. Deal with it.

You've missed the entire point of that example, which is that the iPod turned out to be a 500 billion dollar smash hit that turned apple from a doomed company to one of the top 3 tech companies of the 00s and 10s.

> CmdrTaco

> some people were relying on him to have an informed opinion

hahahaha.... Seriously though, his job was to stoke pageviews, not be correct. Slashdot didn't get big because Rob was a prophetic genius or a talented reporter.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason the average individual does believe that it's worth paying attention to the opinions of celebrities, regardless of any logic pertaining to their judgment or abilities.

This feels like a HN myth. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8863

First top level comment is positive, 2nd says we don't need it, following are again more positive comments.

99% of the thread are positive, most negative comments are regarding presentation.

I agree with you, it's a myth, there's just one comment which is similar to what the parent states, and his objection about not solving the connectivity issue is completely valid. I still use a pendrive in case there's no internet connection. Most of them are congratulations.

What most people don't notice is that many votes don't necesarily mean "everybody agrees with him/her". Many times I have upvoted comments with which I didn't agree but I thought were well reasoned and had validity because I think those comments improve the conversation.

On the other hand, I could agree with comments stating "Great work guys!" but I wouldn't vote them as they offer little to no substance.

The comment he's referring to is one of my all-time favorites.

Here's the original Dropbox thread: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8863

I really enjoy reading Hacker News from time to time. It really reminds me how far removed we are from the actual customers.

Me on dropbox today: Why would anyone want this?

seriously. Sure, the mob uses it, but they also use facebook, skype and whatsapp ... and soon they get their christmal gifts delivered by santa's little drones

Kills a dog!? I don't know what sort of half-ass dogs these people have but I'd be vastly more worried about my dog fucking up one of these drones and being held responsible for replacement costs.

My dog would definitely try to take it out but it's the same as with cats: I would be more worried about the old guy losing an eye than hurting the cat. Those rotor blades look pretty dangerous to me.

My cat killed my small RC helicopter, by carefully observing and then jumping at it, and when it was down she kept hitting it until parts came off and I took it away - but for a moment there I was worried that she had hurt herself on the blades. I can't imagine Prime Air won't have some kind of shielding in place.

If she has kittens I would like one.

I think the original author wanted to imply, that a more productive discussion would occur if we'd think of how to fix these issues. Like put a protective cover at the rim and a grid at the intake so air can flow, but hands, eyes and paws are safe?

The rotors can be made safe enough. It is more a question of the damage it can do by falling out of the air or causing some other accident.

Maybe they could do something like the Spirit and Opportunity rover's balloon mechanism to make it safer in case of accident. It would still be heavy, but it wouldn't be hard and it would have much greater air resistance so it would fall slower. Or maybe they could have helium canisters that inflate a balloon big enough to offset a portion of their weight. It'll probably be difficult but it seems like there are a lot of possibilities to explore.

Stop worrying.

Maybe worry for all of them. I would. If I had a dog.

That thing is obviously an engineering prototype.

I wouldn't be worried about dogs either.

I am worried about the 16-year old holding a mobile phone or an old lady throwing out the garbage.

No kidding. I was -- and still am -- blown away when I saw this. I'm definitely rooting for its success.

And it's not as if the current carrier methods have zero risk. Who's to say this won't eliminate most/all of those risks, potentially at the expense of adding less new risks?

What are you talking about? This delivery method is completely absurd. I mean, who's "bright idea" was it put an entire neighborhood's packages together in a brown truck, then have it travel down roads at 60 miles per hour, often times striking other cars and killing people? And I don't know about you, but I was taught to never put all your eggs in one basket. I mean, there is literally nothing good that can come about from this.

And then they leave it at my doorstep, sometimes even skipping the doorbell, where my neighbors and members of the public can steal the package at will. It's insane!

Human-driven delivery trucks hit and kill dogs, cats, men, women and children every day. On average, 16 people will die in any given day in a truck related crash. One in eight traffic fatalities involves a large cargo truck.

Driving vehicles on roads is incredibly dangerous. I don't think it's possible for drones to do a worse job.

Human-driven delivery trucks hit and kill dogs, cats, men, women and children every day

And gasoline-powered vehicles of all sorts catch on fire all the time in collisions, yet one or two of Tesla's catch on fire and all hell breaks loose. Our mass media has an extremely regressive, anti-intellectual, pro-status quo bent.

Status quo bias is a condition of humanity, not just the media.


Right, but this particular societal institution has a rational preference for the status quo. This is mentioned as an exception right on the page you just linked.

>And gasoline-powered vehicles of all sorts catch on fire all the time in collisions

Gasoline cars do not "catch on fire all the time in collisions". Not remotely.

It's unlikely the Teslas do, either. But Tesla's vehicles are both relatively novel, and real-world-untested and hence are both a news story and deserved of scrutiny.

Just like these drones.

Okay, maybe not just in collisions. But vehicle fires are extremely common. Like, we're talking every couple of minutes in the US.

You don't think that the media has covered (and exaggerated) other kinds of vehicle failures from non-electric vehicles before? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2009%E2%80%9311_Toyota_vehicle_...

It would seem like many on HN has a very extremely regressive, anti-intellectual, pro-status quo bent as well. See old threads about Dropbox and the comments on this story about Prime Air. It seems like a large number of commentaries here are just looking for every excuse to complain or find fault, yet those same folks would think Bitcoin was the cat's meow, despite a myriad of potential issues with that.

Well, to be perfectly fair, it's not really acceptable for people to fill threads with "me too", "I really like this!", or "I can't wait for this to come out!" sort of drivel. When people try to come up with meaningful points to discuss about a particular topic, it's a lot easier to find faults with a particular idea than it is to find positives or predict the potential of the idea.

It's true, and Tesla appears to survive as a company regardless.

I think the dynamic is a bit different for Amazon. The so-called risk wouldn't even potentially be borne by the user, which is much different from the Tesla case.

The problem is that at some point society became insanely risk-averse, especially for new things.

Cars are OK despite being the most insanely dangerous things on the planet because we grew up with them. American Football is OK despite the ludicrous amount of fatalities and injuries.

Hell, if one of these drones just damages a house plant I'm sure the lawyers will be climbing over each other to take the case.

I doubt there will be enough plant carnage to warrant a class action case and a single plant is barely small claims court material.

That's not the point being made by the people who say a single killed dog could nix the program, in fact, it's the opposite. The point is that the public responds irrationally to new minute dangers like this. Commenters pointing this out aren't rooting for failure, and they're not making an argument about the danger. They're just observing that this thing has failure modes because people are dumb.

> They're just observing that this thing has failure modes because people are dumb.

Yeah, and people were damn scared of electricity when it was first introduced to the masses and many did not want it. Go forward 10, 20 years down the road and it was massively adopted. Of course there are always failure modes, but what's more critical to look at is, what's the benefit of this new technology, and will the benefits outweigh the failure modes? I'd suspect the answer will be a clear yes.

The first electric installations and equipment were relatively dangerous actually. No good isolation of metal parts, no separate earth wire, metal body, etc. Things like hair driers were often electrocuting people.

Even the improvements took a long time to become popular. I remember some electric tools from 80s that were known to zap people from time to time, but "that's just the way they are". So yeah... I suppose that the first people to adopt electricity at their homes actually did have something to worry about.

I don't think it's so obvious. Nuclear power is a good example of a tremendously useful technology that languishes because of public ignorance. (Even if you think you have some good argument why nuclear power isn't such a good idea, it's clear that this isn't what's caused the failure.)

Yes, all that are facts. But out of how many truck related deliveries? With your logic, one could say that even if 100% of drone deliveries resulted in a fatality, it would be enough to do < 16 deliveries a day on average and be able to say "Drones are not doing a worse job"

Skepticism and rooting for failure are not the same thing. There are plenty of people here and elsewhere who are mindlessly critical of everything, but not all the critics fall into that category.

The greatest challenge for radically transformative technologies (and this would extend far beyond the scope of Amazon if ever implemented) is almost always being regulated out of existence. That response requires the least effort and the least shared motivation, and it's the one usually taken when a new technology inspires many diverse fears.

Comparing this situation with that of almost any purely Internet-oriented technology isn't likely to lead to an accurate prediction. The downsides of existing delivery methods are likewise unlikely to play a part in the final decision. Pending revelations regarding Amazon's interest in political involvement, skepticism seems warranted. The impact of (well-justified) skepticism on the mindset of innovators also seems desirable.

Speaking for myself, I'll grant that the FAA has a slightly better than average track record (when making executive decisions, anyway).

What merit is there in rooting for failure for failure's sake?

I don't think everyone that expresses skepticism is rooting for failure. I think there's a very strong feeling of cynicism about the bureaucratic, anti-intellectual, regressive culture of the established corporatocracy.

Corporatocray is a weird word to use in this context. Amazon is a corporation wanting progressive regulation here, not resisting it.

The fact that the FAA is in charge of the regulations gives me reason for optimism. Having a consistent policy across the US will be a lot simpler than if each state, or worse, each municipality, were creating its own regulations.

Amazon is practically a startup compared to the existing, entrenched corporatocracy. They aren't old enough to have established the revolving door between their board room and the white house/congress/3-letter regulatory agencies.

My skepticism is based around the fact that the video and information seem like a cheap trick to gain PR.

The technology is interesting and has a bunch of really tough problems that need solving. Amazon haven't even begun to acknowledged any of the issues, let alone begin to solve them. Instead they built a shiny video of a fake product to cash in on the enthusiasm for drones.

No, they built a shiny video and got it aired on a news program so they could get free media in December when people are buying Christmas presents. They also put the idea out there early so that (a) competitors will be seen as imitators and (b) it's easier to pressure the FAA if the regulations aren't what they want.

Given the target audience I wouldn't expect an in-depth coverage of how they're solving specific implementation problems. If you even get that info in the pre-launch coverage, it'll be in a totally different venue and much closer to release. Even if they've solved all the issues, they don't want to give out potentially trade secret info to competitors 18 months before launch and it'd go over the 60 Minutes' audiences' heads - while they're a smart crowd, they're not necessarily up on AI programming or robotics or whatever.

How does skepticism equal rooting for failure?

cynicism is not skepticism. A lot of people seem to get these mixed up nowadays.

Cynicism is not very constructive, interesting, or challenging, so rarely does it make for high signal-to-noise ratio in comments, which hackernews was so appealing in the past for.

How does cynicism equal rooting for failure?

Fast consumer good delivery is pretty far from what I consider the best science fiction can offer.

The best new technology in science fiction might be warp drive. However, that's currently thought to be physically impossible.

Fast consumer delivery is merely impractical. It's so impractical, that we often think of it as impossible. But this is where science fiction is at its best: if we think about how cool it would be if this actually worked, we may find it easier to justify the kinds of investment needed to make it practical.

What about Energy? Loads and loads of it without harming the environment? I thought THAT would be pretty cool sci-fi tech

I'm not too enjoyed by the thought of privately owned drone fleets, for different reasons, some related to privacy and liberty.

Keep in mind that not every reader leaves a comment.

It's a good decision to try to stay on the right side of history. I wonder how many people were certain that it would be ludicrous and impossible to roll people around at 70 mph on smooth paths or thrust people through the air at hundreds of miles per hour.

It's interesting to consider that everything carries a death count. I wonder if there are stats on how many deaths pillows caused, and plastic bags, toothbrushes, laptops, light bulbs, etc. Would be helpful to keep new inventions in perspective.

Agreed. If it works or if it doesn't, its something new and very different.

> "As soon as one of these kills a dog it's done for"

As soon as it kills a dog, you'll have to put certified accelerometer-triggered parachutes on them, and that's it.

When accepting a risk improves logistics dramatically, we get used to that risk: just look at the death toll (and city-planning horrors) we gladly accept in exchange for pervasive car usage.

I think this will end up as important as the invention of the lorry for deliveries, and Amazon makes sure it'll master this technology before it even comes on its competitors' radars.

> As soon as it kills a dog, you'll have to put certified accelerometer-triggered parachutes on them, and that's it.

I can't imagine them not having some kind of safety system to respond to in-air failures. The potential liability is an obvious concern, but protecting the drone itself is probably enough to make it worthwhile.

If anyone can pull it off, it's probably Amazon.

I almost wish a smaller entity would have become the first major player in drone delivery. This is going to draw a lot of attention from regulators, and I can't help but think they will want nothing more than to stop or slow Amazon from further disruption in the retail space.

> I almost wish a smaller entity would have become the first major player in drone delivery

I think there was one. I remember reading about somebody doing this last summer on HN.

> This is going to draw a lot of attention from regulators

You betcha

> and I can't help but think they will want nothing more than to stop or slow Amazon from further disruption in the retail space.

And that's where I have to disagree. Average people go to large retailers because they are cheap. My mom works in retail and she manages to buy unbelievably cheap clothes after stacking several discounts - something the average person just can't (or won't) do on Amazon. And that makes a huge difference. The prices and the experience offered by some retailers is unmatched.

Don't get me wrong, Amazon works great if you're buying electronics or books. But I'd never buy clothes, furniture, or toiletries online because the experience is awful and it's usually cheaper to go out and buy what I need IRL. It's not regulators that are stopping Amazon from disrupting retail; it's Amazon.

Amazon Prime Air was predicted months ago by Zac Morris: http://www.techendo.co/posts/amazon-air-predicted-by-zac-mor...

I hope they're at least as skeptical of Virgin Galactic or the Hyperloop if they're honest. Yes it's far fetched but cool things do sometimes happen.

Ugh, don't read to much into the comments here. HN is full of whiners... or maybe I'm just getting old and the young crowd seems to whine a lot.

A lot of companies were talking about using drones for this kind of work. It's Amazon who is taking the risk to actually execute it publicly. Even if they fail, others will learn from it. Kudos to them for giving it a shot!

there was a show on tv in the UK about working conditions at their distribution centres which was really damning - a psychologist saying they'd combined all the worst practices

with that in mind, i'd say automating more of the order picking process would be better PR - seems like this might damage books but pc component suppliers for instance sometimes have totally automated picking, so may be possible to automate for more robust items

Agreed - people will always find holes to poke for no reason. They aren't the ones innovating.

It's easier to judge others than to put yourself out on a limb...

"90% of the time they're right"

Is the current model better?


That's just a story I found after 10 seconds of Googling. The broader point is that having your packages delivered fast-moving multiton machines controlled by fallible people and sharing space with pedestrians and other people-controlled machines is a very dangerous state of affairs. That there are risks in alternative means is true enough, but it's important to measure those risks relative to the status quo and not just assume they're purely additive.

But because we're human, we're bad at that. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Status_quo_bias

Of course googling you will find multiple fatality accidents with current drive and drop delivery methods. As of 2007 there were 254.4 million passenger cars registered in the US alone. That number has most likely continued to increase since this.

Until someone does some real quantitative risk studies; the risk is uncertain in comparison. It will only take one child seriously injured from one of these copters though for Amazon to be slapped with a major lawsuit; worse than the lawsuit though will be the public backlash from angry and indignant customers should something like this happen.

"It will only take one child seriously injured by one of these motorized carriages though for Ford to be slapped with a major lawsuit"

To be more nuanced about it, there's a big difference between this being a good or bad idea for humanity and this being an optimal or suboptimal move for Amazon. That there might be lawsuits and backlash even if it actually reduces the number of accidents might make it a poor play by Amazon, but it doesn't make it a bad idea in some ethical sense. For example, perhaps you're saying that even though it might save lives and improve efficiency, the current regulatory framework and public disposition make this kind of advance impossible (compare to cars hitting the streets in a different era). So there's a sort of normative versus positive question here. Perhaps you're talking about the latter, which is fine (and of course debatable), but I'm interested in the former. Especially so because the normative stuff is an input to tech policy debates and the positive stuff is its output, so you inform the debate by figuring out what the end result you want is.

But maybe you're not saying that; maybe you're saying "well, we don't know how risky drones are and maybe, safety-wise, it's a big step backwards" and the part about lawsuits and stuff was sort of a separate point. That's true enough. The reason I gave the Fed-Ex crash example was just to point out that it does not follow from an RC helicopter accident in Queens that drone deliveries are a bad idea. But it's true that the relative safety of cars and drones is unknown (and, as you can tell, I have a guess about it). Now the issue is that you need some way to find out. Or resign to never advancing at all. Human studies of new medicines encounter this problem too, yet few people are saying, "I don't want any medicinal advancements."

The reality is that if you want to improve society, you're going to have to take some risks with some unknowns. Perhaps you try it in some select cities in some limited fashion and build from there. (Think it's unethical to experiment on humans? What about the hundred-year, totally uncontrolled experiment we've been conducting using automobiles? I certainly didn't sign up for it. The status quo is not a special case.) Look at it like this: what does the world look like in three hundred years? I'd like to think it looks like something from Star Trek. So what, schematically, are the steps to get from here to there? How do you draw a line from 2013 to 2313? Because I'm pretty sure it doesn't involve "we don't have flying robots, so we don't know if they're dangerous, so no flying robots."

The victim in your link, if you look at the picture, was flying a single-rotor helicopter with what looks to be a 4+ foot wingspan.

The prototype in the Amazon video is an 8-rotor helicopter with little 4 to 6 inch wingspans. Anything that goes to production will have to pass FAA approval, so they will probably end up with some sort of hoop guard at the least.

Negativity for the sake of negativity?

So your point is that it won't decapitate someone and instead slice their body/face to pieces?

Not negativity for the sake of negativity. While the link I posted is a large single rotor helicopter, I was trying to show a worst case scenario. If Amazon Air does get off the ground then I would imagine the program expanding to delivering heavier packages over time, which would require larger quad copters and thus larger rotors and higher risk of more serious injuries.

I have built and fly hobby planes and copters in my spare time. They are dangerous. Once, after one of my planes crashed near me, I picked it up without giving it a second thought and sliced my hand wide open on the still spinning front propeller.

I don't necessarily believe this is a technology that will result in fatalities, but certainly injuries, especially to children and animals.

On a less dangerous note; I fully expect some shenanigans from people shooting these things down to get free goods.

So your "worst case scenario" includes a complete lack of reasonable safety precautions that the FAA would mandate before this is approved AND damage inflicted by something with 8x the wingspan (not to mention differences in engine power)? You believe this is a reasonable comparison?

We could build UPS trucks that are two lanes wide and paint over their windshields, but we don't. Because that would be stupid. So stupid that comparing the risk involved isn't even worthy of discussion.

All delivery technologies result in injuries. That doesn't make them "not good ideas".

This is not a toy helicopter.

This is a delivery vehicle equipped with the best collision detection technology Amazon can find, approved by some of the best profit-motivated, liability-averse lawyers in the world.

> ...approved by some of the best profit-motivated, liability-averse lawyers in the world.

You can be sure that on the other side of the equation, if and when a delivery drone causes damage to property or causes bodily harm or death, some of the best profit-motivated, liability-sniffing lawyers in the world will be eying the bank accounts of Amazon and its insurance carriers.

By the way: attorneys don't "approve" anything. They advise clients on risk and can try to help clients mitigate risk to the greatest extent possible based on the courses of action clients pursue. Companies do stupid things that create liabilities, some huge, all the time. The attorneys make just as much (if not more) cleaning up messes as they do trying to prevent them.

Amazon however, is not particularly profit motivated...

That wasn't a toy helicopter either.

Correct. In the same way, this isn't a toy rocket: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Rocket1034040.jpg

This concept and forward thinking is of the type I make a conscious effort to protect from skepticism and naysayers. Aside from any obvious or glaring safety issues, ideas like this one, that teeter on the reality-joke line, are the exact ones that bring about true disruption. And that's why I encourage everyone around me to keep an open and forgiving mind, like you would with a child.

Will Amazon Prime Air work? I don't know, but I hope so.

Agreed. So far, I've seen nothing but specious fear-mongering and nonsensical "what-if" arguments against this thing.

I can understand why people doubt the feasibility of drone delivery, especially given the legal impediments to adoption. Frankly, I doubt that this type of service will be practical within four years. What I can't understand is why people openly reject the idea of drones.

I don't see how Prime Air is any less safe or efficient than sending thousands of five-ton metal boxes barreling down residential streets. I don't see why a five-pound piece of plastic falling from the sky poses an appreciably greater risk than a branch falling on you. I don't see how people can draw parallels between small, low-altitude consumer drones and military UAVs. The level of fear surrounding this announcement makes no sense.

The response to Prime Air goes far beyond skepticism. It's incoherent, fanatical pessimism, and it's really dissapointing.

Law students (most) take a class called Criminal Procedure that heavily covers 4th, 5th, and (to a smaller extent) 6th amendment jurisprudence. I took it in 2011 when drones were really heavy in the news cycle. Our final exam was solely on drones and how their adoption would effect/be effected by 4th amendment considerations.

So with all that said, I really really hate the idea of drones. They get places humans cannot. They're expected in places *humans cannot be. These places are protected right now. Just putting drones in operation (especially in the hands of the public) means every single bit of the public up to the point of actually suctioning cup on your window is possibly fair game. Of course, I hope that reasonable regulations are at play but I am pessimistic about it. I think people will want their taco drones and their 30 min Amazon delivery MORE than they want to hear how it might impact their privacy.

So it's not safety, it's not "oh no, they're like the military now". It's purely the loss of private airspace that still remains and the potential to abuse it audio/visual wise.

I can already buy a little quadcopter, attach a camera to it, and fly it around; the relevant regulations here are just about commercial use, right?

That's actually a minor quibble with your argument, though. My real problem is this: you're skeptical that they won't be regulated enough, so you want them regulated out of existence? Your solution is a bit like saying, "well, the NSA will be able to spy on our network connections, so let's just not have an internet." If you want good tech policy, you need to support good tech policy, not just throw your hands up and say, "there could be adverse consequences, so no new technology!" Otherwise we'll never get anywhere.

Yes, the relevant regulations are about commercial use which is COMPLETELY backwards from a privacy standpoint.

To answer your question, no, I don't want drones to not exist and it would not be worthwhile if I did. Since they obviously do and will continue to exist, we should be thinking about the privacy considerations first with regards to how you would restrict the government's use of drones and THEN go on to the commercial considerations with those same restrictions in mind.

There's a little known set of 4th amendment jurisprudence attached to technology that says something along the lines of "if the public can't generally take advantage of the technology (have it be readily accessible to them), neither can law enforcement when executing a 'search'" - think super-accurate heat sensors that can essentially x-ray the interior of homes, etc...Well we are about to just hand an entire domain to them!

In short: law enforcement is salivating at the thought of commercial drone use because they won't have any regulations applicable to them.

I assume you mean Kyllo, which I have a number of problems with (though I'm somewhat reassured by some of Scalia's points in the majority opinion). But maybe my imagination isn't good enough - what's the scary scenario with drones that Kyllo makes legal?

It's a new thing. People are always scared of new things. And soon enough it's just a part of life and you can't believe society ever got along without it. There is a massive danger that overly conservative regulations will impede technological progress and innovation.

And to be perfectly honest I'm not worried about privacy from it. There isn't much you can see from a drone you can't with binoculars and possibly a ladder. And besides that, no one is going to spy on you. It's going to be something minor that happens to one out of a million people and then gets completely exaggerated by the media.

Whereas changing the world's distribution system has massive implications on everyone's lives, and many of the other possible uses of drones can change the world as well. Besides it's an awesome hobby and I'd hate to see it get banned just because it became more popular.

> I don't see how Prime Air is any less safe or efficient than sending thousands of five-ton metal boxes barreling down residential streets.

Here's the difference: there's a person directly controlling that five-ton metal box.

Even if you assume that a) the person behind the wheel of a delivery truck is arguably more fallible than a drone following a flight plan and b) a company operating a drone will have the same potential legal liabilities if the drone causes harm to property or an individual, you should not underestimate or ignore the comfort that being able to "blame" or hold a human being accountable provides.

> The response to Prime Air goes far beyond skepticism. It's incoherent, fanatical pessimism, and it's really dissapointing.

There are many commercial applications for drones that I don't see a whole lot of opposition to. These include agriculture, construction, mining and oil. Many if not most of these involve the use of drones in areas that are sparsely populated or where access is limited to authorized personnel.

The only thing that's incoherent and disappointing here is pretending that there's no difference between these "industrial" applications and applications that would inject drones into highly-populated areas, particularly those that are residential.

Suburban residential is very low-population-density, a few people per square mile, less during working hours. It wouldn't be hard to put a box next to your driveway where a copter could drop a package, and never get within a hundred feet of anybody.

The real population density issue is downtown, during working hours. Even then folks are on the sidewalk or indoors. There's nobody on the roof for instance. Copters could drop a package into a chute, again without getting close to anybody.

> Suburban residential is very low-population-density, a few people per square mile...

It sounds like you're confusing "suburban residential" with "backwater rural." Census data[1] shows that there are a lot more people per square mile than you suggest.

Even a small metropolitan area like Vernal, Utah, which has a population of just 25,224, has a population density of ~250 people per square mile.

[1] http://www.census.gov/population/metro/files/CBSA%20Report%2...

You do realize how big a square mile is, right? 250 people still leaves a lot of empty space.

Since the payload is 5 pounds, it would have to weigh significantly more.

like you would with a child

Why would we turn off our critical thinking skills when contemplating claims of a leap in technology that transcends what many of us understand to be possible currently?

There are times to encourage creative thought, like with children or within the context of a brainstorming meeting.

But most of the time we should evaluate claims critically with the best practices of the Scientific Method.

IMO, there's way too much gullibility in our society for religions, junk science, Internet scams, and political dogma.

The Scylla and Charybdis of innovation.

Open your mind too far and you accept too many wacky ideas. Close it to much and you'll never see what's possible.

The really hard part of critical thinking is training your intuitive, heuristic filters. Applying rigorous critical thinking to everything takes way too long. Conversely, applying critical thinking to nothing at all makes you a gullible idiot. Developing that filter to strike the right balance is a lifelong learning process.

Sure, but if I could turn the societal dial a few clicks toward critical thinking vs day dreaming, I'd do it.

The unquestionable success of the Scientific Method has shown that careful analysis and requirement of experimental proof far outstrip bumbling about with our own natural human level of random thoughts that we label "creativity".

Creativity and critical thinking aren't opposite ends of the same scale, in many ways they are orthogonal.

Similarly, critical thinking and blind pessimism aren't the same thing, though many people mistake them to be.

The scientific method is about testing ideas.

Generating ideas another matter.

Innovation often requires ideas that sound 'crazy' (because they don't fit with established ideas).

I dunno. Maybe.

But then I look around and see more need for creativity now than ever. Technology is changing faster than ever and that's impacting society in ways previously only speculated about. To me that means there's a lot of opportunity out there waiting to be captured by people crazy enough to do a little dreaming.

Ideas are delicate things.

> Why would we turn off our critical thinking skills when contemplating claims of a leap in technology that transcends what many of us understand to be possible currently?

Because it's Amazon, and they're one of a few companies able to choose the technology, location, and customer base for the system, and willing to operate a service at a loss. If it's only possible to deliver this to suburban homes in Little Rock, Arkansas, and they lose money on each delivery, then they still can do it.

Just because it's Amazon doesn't mean you should turn off your critical thinking skills.

Well said

Well said. It's original thinking like this that moves us forward as a human race. And in order to move forward, you have to take huge risks, face uncertainty and do whatever you can to prove everyone wrong.

Here's to hoping that Amazon learns from Google' mistake and doesn't decide to add 'additional features' once this is already deployed. (I'm referring to Google's Wifi AP scanning debacle w/ Google StreetView trucks)

That's a cool idea. I could do that by amazon prime airing myself a bunch of raspberry pi's scanning continuously through the system.

I hope it works too - it seems so cool.

But I am not sure this is the big problem in this space.

Current delivery time = 1 day for last mile + >1 day for warehouse -> local area

This method reduces the last mile delivery time down to 30 mins but it is not clear how the second part would be optimized down. At least, without losing the value proposition of Amazon - giant centralized warehouses instead of local retail outlets.

It's like the levels of caching in a computer.

(just using orders of magnitude for an example, the actual numbers for best efficiency probably aren't quite so nice)

The 1000 most frequently ordered items in a warehouse near your neighborhood. The 10000 most frequently ordered items in a city-wide warehouse. The 100,000 most frequently ordered items in a regional warehouse.

Amazon already has the regional warehouse part.

I'd guess that this might be worth doing even if only the 1,000 most frequently ordered items can get there in 30 minutes, and should definitely be worth doing if you can get the 10,000 most frequently ordered items there in 30 minutes.

Agree, it could totally work for Amazon Fresh items, say, that are bound to be ordered regularly.

Plus they don't have to roll out worldwide simultaneously, they can just do a few select cities at first.

By having more local warehouses that stock the top x most sold things. 100% of the things I can readily remember that I ordered the last 2 or 3 months are so common that they were all in stock in the local shop that I bought most of them at (a large online retailer here in the Netherlands has 6 or 8 or so shops across the country, for local pick up or to try stuff in-store). And they were not the most common things either - a steam wall paper remover, a router (of the woodworking type, not the networking type), a specific type of headphone. If they can have those levels of stock in high street bricks and mortar shops, they could have even larger inventories when they could store them in fully automated warehouses in cheap industrial areas. The accuracy in stock prediction ('shop stock', not 'financial markets stock', obviously) is jaw-dropping.

Man this is going to destroy high street shopping (even further, I might add) - imagine being able to order 10 outfits for trying on from your own home, try them on and send the 9 you don't want back right away, in less time than it would have taken you to just drive to wherever you can buy it off line. If clothing (and other main street) shops are having a hard time now, wait until they have to compete with this...

I assume they would start to have distributed micro ware houses (shipping containers, dry vans) that are launching points for drones or dudes on scooters. I feel sorry for minimart.

Also, if serious, they should buy 7-11. I still don't understand why Blockbuster wasn't scooped up like hot cakes. All those juicy retail locations.

What if I give you chance to bet on the success of this technology, what terms would be acceptable for you?


When will I be able to choose Prime Air as a delivery option?

A: We hope the FAA's rules will be in place as early as sometime in 2015. We will be ready at that time.

Sorry, but not a chance. I'm intimately familiar with the flight controller, motor and batter technology behind multi-rotors, and I can state unequivocally that this is just not ready for 'prime'-time (so-to-speak :)

There are multiple issues still to be addressed, not least of which is battery energy density & power-to-weight ratio.

Battery recharge time - out for 15 mins flight? Recharge for 2 hours.

Flight time / payload - pick one. (20 mins with no payload is a stretch. Add bigger batteries? Too much weight. Add bigger motors and props for more lift? now you need bigger batteries...

No good in 'weather' of pretty much any kind.

Unstable with a failed motor / prop. Will fall out of the sky under numerous failure scenarios.

The blades are lethal - can be shielded, but will add weight and reduce efficiency.

GPS is unreliable at best, and is easily interfered with.

Current regulations in countries that have them typically require line-of-sight operation; away from people and property (which rules out landing outside someone's front door); no over-flight of persons; restrictions around distances from the operator when taking off and landing. (And remember the battery / weight issue? Go over a certain weight [~8KG], and the regulations get even more onerous.)

Battery technology will improve, safety issues will be addressed, regulations will change. But 2015? Jeff, I admire your optimism!

I'm also "intimately familiar" with multi rotors, and I don't think any of these issues you've identified are valid, with the exception of regulations (which Amazon admits won't happen).

> Battery recharge time - out for 15 mins flight? Recharge for 2 hours.

So? Swap out batteries. The whole drone doesn't have to be grounded for 2 hours.

> Flight time / payload - pick one. (20 mins with no payload is a stretch. Add bigger batteries? Too much weight. Add bigger motors and props for more lift? now you need bigger batteries...

That's wrong. There are many off the shelf platforms which can easily handle 5+ lb payloads for 20+ minute flights. Here's one: http://www.freeflysystems.com/products/cinestarHL.php

> No good in 'weather' of pretty much any kind.

That's wrong, too. Multirotor flight speeds are 30+ knots. Modest wind is not a big deal.

> Unstable with a failed motor / prop. Will fall out of the sky under numerous failure scenarios.

Most robust multirotor platforms have 8 or more motors/props, and can trivially handle the failure of one or two. It's true that there are "numerous failure scenarios" which will result in a UAV falling out of the sky, but the same is true of passenger airliners: this will happen if the wings fall off. To suggest that a UAV can't be made as reliable as a typical manned helicopter is short-sighted.

> The blades are lethal - can be shielded, but will add weight and reduce efficiency.

This is only true in the absence of failsafe mechanisms: e.g. a device that brakes the motor when below a certain altitude. Also, as you mentioned, they can be shielded.

> GPS is unreliable at best, and is easily interfered with.

No, GPS is perfectly reliable "at best", and utterly nonfunctional at worst. Fortunately, there are lots of alternatives for GPS.

> Current regulations in countries that have them typically require line-of-sight operation; away from people and property (which rules out landing outside someone's front door); no over-flight of persons; restrictions around distances from the operator when taking off and landing. (And remember the battery / weight issue? Go over a certain weight [~8KG], and the regulations get even more onerous.)

This is 100% valid. Regulations are a concern.

The multirotor you cited has a no-load hover time of about 15 mins - hover n/e forward flight. It has a loaded flight time of about 5 mins. Like I said - pick one.

I didn't say wind, I said weather. That said, forward flight in even moderate wind draws considerably more current.

The motors are open for cooling and weight efficiency. They aren't waterproof. Try flying in snow, or dusty / sandy environments and see what happens!

If GPS accuracy randomly ranges between perfect and nonfunctional, then you have described unreliable. Please cite all these alternatives.

What do you imagine might happen if one were to 'brake the motors below a certain altitude'?

And I didn't say 'can't be made', I said the technology isn't there yet, nor by 2015 as Amazon suggest. I also said it will be eventually.

Regarding the flight time/capacity issue, I'd be quite interested to see how a system like [1] would perform.

[1] http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/aerial-robots/ir...

What are other good alternatives to GPS?

Inertial navigation systems[1] have been used for more years than GPS has existed. Even now almost all military drones / rockets / ICBMs use very precise inertial systems.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inertial_navigation_system

Two guesses: cellular location services and custom radio telemetry systems. Maybe that's one guess.

I'm the complete opposite - I've never even seen a drone-like machine.

Could you squeeze in any more minutes with solar panelling? I mean if they have to fly in decent weather anyway they may as well try to get a bit more charge in them while flying

I am certain any panel you could possibly add would cost more energy to lift than it might collect.

How far can they fly in 20 minutes?

> 20+ minute flights

That's 10 minutes each way. Assuming they fly at 30 mph, you get a range of 5 miles. That might work for big cities, assuming they can fly for 5 miles in a straight line, which they can't.

> No, GPS is perfectly reliable "at best", and utterly nonfunctional at worst. Fortunately, there are lots of alternatives for GPS.

GPS got hacked a long time ago, and even military drones got stolen using a fake GPS transmission.

There are not that many GPS alternatives. GLONASS. Maybe if you have some local towers, but that's a huge project in itself.

1. New LiPo batteries recharge at up to 10C (ten times their rated hourly capacity), which means a full charge under 10 minutes (including final balancing stage).

2. Octocopters, unless loaded to the hilt, can more or less fly uninterrupted even when missing a propeller.

3. Multirotors fly well even in strong winds (20mph winds and more).

I don't see any technical difficulty preventing a company with the resources of Amazon to introduce this service in a year. The major problems are legislative.

And social. I'm curious what sort of utility such a service could yield, but I'm not interested in filling our airspace with service drones. The low-elevation sky is relatively uncluttered by our works.

I think it can work with minor interruption to everyday life if the drone are confined to the paths of major highways. It will reduce their noise pollution (and be marginally safer in a crash).

The bigger impact would be on smaller retailers, that don't have this service. This service is an absolute killer, making it faster to order a toothpaste from Amazon compared to picking it up at a shop outside your house.

The bigger impact would be on smaller retailers, that don't have this service. This service is an absolute killer, making it faster to order a toothpaste from Amazon compared to picking it up at a shop outside your house.

This would be an incredible benefit to human economy. Imagine the millions of retail jobs completely obsoleted by drones. Consider the price difference between wholesale and the corner retail shop -- a cost this could largely eliminate. Consider all the hours wasted in retail-facing interactions.

Why would a small store serving a local population not be able to offer this? There is a lot of open source drone stuff out there, so the technology should be readily available. At least available within a year of Amazon putting it into service.

If my local mom-n-pop store has an app and a drone, I would shop there.

I can think of a few problems:

1) Scale: a small store might not have enough sales to justify buying a single drone and training the staff to use it.

2) Regulation: licensing and certifications to be allowed to use these - particularly in a completely hands-off way - may have high fixed costs that a small store can't afford.

3) Lack of knowledge: most small store managers probably don't have any idea of how to set this up, or that it is even possible.

And in the end, why would you buy from the local mom-n-pop store? Nostalgia? Helping the people you know? I think that'd wear out pretty soon or just not work for many people.

Could you get your pizza or Chinese food delivery via drone?

Yeah, for food I think it could actually work, if you had a startup like GrubHub handling the drones, which would just fetch the food from the chosen restaurant and deliver it.

Amazon's page reads like a Google April 1st post.

Or maybe someday we'll look back at these comments like we do at http://slashdot.org/story/01/10/23/1816257/

How right, so very very right you are.

Quoted from the thread you linked.

"Raise your hand if you have iTunes ...

Raise your hand if you have a FireWire port ...

Raise your hand if you have both ...

Raise your hand if you have $400 to spend on a cute Apple device ...

There is Apple's market. Pretty slim, eh? I don't see many sales in the future of iPod.

~LoudMusic -- No sig for you. YOU GET NO SIG!"

I love this one, could be written today...

Apple is being distroyed by the rumors that are being created. When they announce that they are going to have a new product, everyone thinks it's going to blow their worlds. Rumors start flooding in about even the most outragous products ( I even heard a few "sources" mention teleportion) This is getting plain stupid.

Apple is a normal company. Why does the public constantly expect them do the impossible?

Actually, these comments are not as discredited as one might think in hindsight. iPod sales weren't spectacular until the 4th generation of the iPod classic and until iPod Mini was introduced 3 years later. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/34/Ipod_sale...

I think it's valuable to point out the problems with the current technology and regulations like scoot did, even though we all realize that in a few years things could change.

One could say the same about the iPhone - http://static4.businessinsider.com/image/50104de669beddc2110...

Or really any 'disruptive' product.

  Battery recharge time - out for 15 mins flight? Recharge for 2 hours.
Short trips to/from a fixed distribution point is the canonical use case for battery swapping in electric vehicles.

It is, but keep in mind that for weight efficiency the LiPo batteries are only protected by a heat-shrink skin, no physical or fire protection at all. They will spontaneously combust quite robustly in a crash, or during charging of they are faulty or have been stressed in flight.

So they have to be charged in a fire safe manner, and (in a commercial setting such as a distribution centre) away from the main facility. Not beyond possibility, and again with changes in battery technology this will improve (LiFo is looking hopeful relative to LiPoon the safety front), but another logistical hurdle, so still worth mentioning.

In a city, it would be awesome to see automated rooftop drone charging systems (solar powered of course).

Well, you know, Bezos is a pretty smart guy. So maybe he knows something about this technology that the rest of us don't.

Maybe he has an upper hand over the current state-of-the-art.

Or maybe he's just orchestrating a little extra PR for Amazon on 60 minutes?

Or he wants to create public demand for this service to use as leverage for getting the regulations through.

I have no particular love for Bezos - last I heard, Amazon sucks as a workplace - but this seems unlikely. There are better ways to drive PR than reveal one of your company's secret projects to the public.

Yeah, right. The privileged information available only to the mega-rich...pfft.

Or advances in the available technology driven by a great R&D team with a significant budget instead of hobbyists?

I don't want to knock hobbyists, because they often do great work. But if Amazon thinks this is the future of package delivery, they could bring an awful lot of resources to bear on the problem.

Bezos has access to massive R&D resources because he created massive value for consumers.

Now, those resources can be leveraged to generate even more value for consumers.

The privileged information available only to the mega-rich...pfft.

Don't dismiss the value of insider information re: government policy.

There are two ways to present this type of criticism: lay it out and hypothesize how they are going to overcome these obstacles, or get up and say they will certainly fail because these obstacles are impossible to overcome. You can guess which one of these makes you look like a short-sighted un-imaginative cynic.

Having to have several sets of batteries seems like on of the simpler problems to deal with.

Why not just put the battery in the payload lid?

>We hope the FAA's rules will be in place as early as sometime in 2015

Well, it is carefully crafted to say the rules will be in place, not the technology. The FAA could say Amazon needs to do X first where X is any one of the challenges you mentioned.

I'm glad they put that in, though, because otherwise the threads are always full of "The FAA will never allow this" comments. The wording gives me a reassuring feeling that Amazon knows how much hard work it will take to accomplish.

> We will be ready at that time.

Except for, you know, that bit (the bit you cut out)

Holy crap, you're right. My eyes skipped completely over that. I wasn't trying to be a jerk or anything. Upvotes for you, shame for me.

Sounds like a lot of fun problems to solve, and I'm sure they have many competent engineers working on it.

The real surprising thing is that Amazon is accelerating the post industrial age. The economy is growing but wages are stagnant. A demand for human labor is declining while corporations are making massive profits. These drones are an example where machines are replacing jobs that were once done by humans.

As we pull out of the recession in the US, the fastest growing job market is the low wage/retail jobs. Walmart will have to match the technologies of Amazon as they fight for market share. Leading to more and more automation of human tasks. During this past thanksgiving there were worker strikes in some Walmart stores for a living wage (~$15/hr). What happens to society when these jobs are not even available?

The most interesting part of the 60 minutes interview was not the drones but this:

Charlie Rose: Is Amazon ruthless in their pursuit of market share?

Jeff Bezos: The Internet is disrupting every media industry, Charlie, you know, people can complain about that, but complaining is not a strategy. And Amazon is not happening to book selling, the future is happening to book selling.

It's a common but incorrect assumption to think that replacing repetitive human tasks with machines leads to wide-scale unemployment.

Of course the delivery person who is replaced by drones is out of a job initially, but this doesn't doom everyone to unemployment. Higher productivity through mechanisation leads to lower prices, which means more cash available for other purchases, which leads to jobs growth in other areas and a rise in living standards. There are always winners and losers in any technological change, but the general quality of life for society as a whole improves when menial repetitive tasks are replaced by automation.

There are more jobs around now than there was at the dawn of industrialisation, and has been, every step of the way. This will continue to be true, despite difficult adjustment periods for individuals and businesses in effected industries. Stagnation is much worse than progress, and trying to regulate away technological progress is even worse than that.

I think the major applications for this are in areas where people can't quite imagine yet. Like the increase in internet speed and portable processors which ran ahead of services to leverage it, this type of infrastructure may start by delivering books, and end who-knows-where. Distributed aged-care with medication and meals delivered in-home? Some bizarre physical-world words with friends? The possibilities are quite exciting if it can be intelligently standardized.

Higher productivity through mechanisation also leads to businesses being far more capital-intensive and less reliant on humans, which means a large proportion of the money coming in from those lower prices goes to members of the capital owning class - who, in general, don't spend nearly as much of it - which, in turn, means that spending power amongst the people who do actually spend will decrease faster than prices.

Well, no, that's not what I am saying at all. The beneficiaries of lower prices are the end customers, not the owners of the business. Most people live on (relatively) fixed incomes - a gradual lowering of prices for things that they buy simultaneously increases their quality of life by leaving a larger share of income for other purchases.

This is easily tested by most people - inflation adjusted, owning a device with the power of an iPhone is absurdly cheap by historical standards.

I would also argue that businesses are becoming less capital intensive in general. Sure, specific types of business require multi-billion investments, but many other businesses are launchable now with essentially 'zero down'. That's a combination of automation allowing previously labor intensive tasks, and of automation lowering the cost of capital goods. You can start a startup now with just a single laptop and some open-source software, the capital requirements are essentially nil. Ironically it is Amazon itself which carries credit for some of this - by automating virtualised computing resources, it has lowered the price of those resources and allowed more people to start businesses.

I'm surprised I have to post that on HN, but it's true.

Higher adoption of mechanisation leads to better availablity and lower prices for the machines, though.

I might be wrong, but think I see a trend where the barriers of entry for many businesses are becoming lower and lower. For example: 3d printers, UAV drones, computers, sewing machines, craft beer equipment. They are all easily obtainable by a private person without outside money.

Also, while some equipment is still too expensive for a layman, a huge amount of manufacturing processes are now offered as a service. Better automation makes it viable to produce small batches of custom products. It is because of this mechanisation trend that I'm now able to send a 3d file to some company in UK and get a few hundred custom injection moulded parts delivered by mail.

>There are more jobs around now than there was at the dawn of industrialization

But the population also exploded since then.[1]

I believe there are possibly no jobs for every one and a basic income of some kind should be considered. Just a way to avoid misery until people figure out their talents. [2]

I'm not a hater, though. I love the idea of Amazon Air, even though I'll probably never use it. Just to know it exists is a funny thing.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:World-Population-1800-2100...

[2] http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/in-latvia-young-people-d...

In the long term yes. In the short term (the rest of an adult worker's life) there is widespread, chronic unemployment and reduction of quality of life.

I think optimism is the most important requirement for adaptation to any major technological change. How long has big media been kicking against the pricks of online distribution for purely political reasons, and how far has it gotten them? What could have been today if the MPAA, RIAA, and affiliated groups accepted the technological change and thought about how to best leverage it instead of sitting around sulking and suing because new strategies were required to successfully collect royalties?

The problem you're describing is purely psychological. New technologies open up many new opportunities. There's no reason the employees of the delivery apparatus obsoleted by Prime Air can't learn something new and seize the opportunity.

My personal theory is that Amazon hates being reliant on UPS and FedEx. I can't see Bezos being thrilled that so much of his empire relies on the Teamsters. Note that UPS's labor agreement with the Teamsters expires in the next few years. That poses a big risk to Amazon's infrastructure if there's labor unrest during the negotiation.

I've long suspected they were working towards a point where they could handle the last mile in house—this development doesn't surprise me at all.

Totally agree. Even if this concept doesn't work perfectly, it puts pressure on couriers to give Amazon the discounts they want.

Its kind of like how large enterprises use an Open Office support quote to bring down the cost of their Microsoft office licensing.

The Amazon USPS Sunday shipping has started too. I ordered something Friday and it showed up at 10am today (Today is Sunday, for those of you reading in the future).

I'm really curious about how FedEx and UPS will handle this. If the legislation changes then I think there could be room for one of these two, or possibly a new competitor, to create their own fleet of drones to offer local deliveries for businesses everywhere.

Just watched the 60 minutes segment: Bezos say they won't be ready until 2015 at the earliest, likely 2016. (Edit: as the commenter below pointed out, I misheard the timeframe: is is 4-5 years out)

He said the range is 10 miles, which is good enough for most residential areas. They are aiming for delivery in 30 minutes. The drones are autonomous: you plug in the GPS coordinates and away they go.

The biggest challenge (again, according to Bezos) is the redundancy, "making sure it doesn't land on people's heads."

My question is: why announce this now, 2 to 3 (or more) years out? Are they gearing up to get governmental regulations?

I don't know where you heard 2016, he said 4-5 years, and that's being optimistic. From the transcript:

Jeff Bezos: And, you know, I don’t want anybody to think this is just around the corner. This is years of additional work from this point. But this is…

Charlie Rose: But will ‘years’ mean five, 10?

Jeff Bezos: I think, I, I am, I’m an optimist Charlie. I know it can’t be before 2015, because that’s the earliest we could get the rules from the FAA. My guess is that’s, that’s probably a little optimistic. But could it be, you know, four, five years? I think so. It will work, and it will happen, and it’s gonna be a lot of fun.

>> why announce this now, 2 to 3 (or more) years out? Are they gearing up to get governmental regulations?

My guess: if the public is clearly excited, it puts more pressure on regulators to approve it.

Which is otherwise a hard sell, especially when you think of what it means for security if autonomous drones are a normal sight.

I think Bezos is wondering how society will respond. It is up to us. Some will welcome this as an improvement in delivery efficiency and service. Some will say it will make our cities crowded and noisy not only on the streets with cars and trucks, but in the sky too.

I like my blue silent sky. I recall scenes of sci-fi worlds like the 5th Element. I suggest we tax externalities. If you order by sky, you'll create visual and noise pollution to many people, and you should pay a tax for this, to be shared by the community as a whole.

My take is that Bezos wants to see how society will respond to this. A high tax would kill his ROI, and he won't invest much in R&D. If we say "Nice! We want this" he will double down.

> I like my blue silent sky. I recall scenes of sci-fi worlds like the 5th Element. I suggest we tax externalities. If you order by sky, you'll create visual and noise pollution to many people, and you should pay a tax for this, to be shared by the community as a whole.

HA! Good luck on that.

You must live nowhere near anywhere. My sky is plenty filled with buildings, airplanes, helicopters, and even the occasional hot air balloon.

You keep your taxes to yourself. I have a package that needs delivering in under 30 minutes by drone.


It seems like they only want to put pressure on the FAA. 3/4 FAQs mention the FAA.

As far as range goes, you could Pony Express it with a series of waystations.

why not just use the delivery (UPS/Fedex/etc) trucks as a base station for the drones?

Pull in to a neighborhood of, say, 500 residents; Say you have about 100 packages to deliver... Set up 5 drones to deliver packages. Even if it takes 60 seconds on average for each drone to deliver and return, it probably is still much faster than the truck driver having to drive into every street, stop, grab the right package, drop it off, and go back to the truck and repeat.

I have a feeling they are doing it to garner support for drones in general, which will help them with the FDA when it comes to getting approval.

I hope you mean FAA.


This is a startup opportunity. Amazon's competitors will want a drone delivery service even if they can't build the drones or service themselves.

Except that Amazon will likely offer Drones As A Service, too. They have a pretty solid track record of offering their own technologies widely, even to competitors.

It also gives them control of the conversation of drones, which, let's just say, hasn't exactly been in your favour, if you're a drone.

Responses that I have not yet seen in the comments.

1: These could deliver into my apartment on the nth floor by coming through an open window, as well as the mentioned balconies and front yards or the roof.

2: We could not just set our delivery point up using a app on our smartphones (GPS wtc), but those phones could also broadcast over the various radios to the device and even use the camera to help the UAV navigate. Enter a few hints about route and off we go.

3: The UAVs can be launched from delivery vans to save on the flight time from the larger depot. Drive to a delivery area, deliver the big parcels by hand while the little parcels are automatically delivered by UAVs operating from the roof of the van.

4: The cost of UAVs will come down - significantly - so they may become semi-disposable for the delivery company. In 2015 that may not be true, but by 2025 I can certainly see it.

5: The UAV's could, if they are set up with the right taxi-like business model, be used by a variety of delivery actors, including individuals as well as businesses. So after the Amazon delivery I use the drone to take a parcel to the post office for delivery to an eBay buyer.

The drones could hitch a lift on people's autonomous vehicles. Amazon would give you a roof rack and pay you when it rides on; they can hook in to your GPS and schedule to anticipate routing.


We all have windows - and many of those windows open. A basket that hangs outside the window with a battery powered beacon is another option for delivery. The baskets could even be secure and waterproof.

Instead of a battery-powered beacon you would likely use fiducials [0].

The issue I see with delivery to windows is all the clutter that is commonly found in front of windows such as power lines, tree branches etc. since that cannot yet be easily detected with computer vision and inexpensive 3D sensors.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiduciary_marker

"1: These could deliver into my apartment on the nth floor by coming through an open window, as well as the mentioned balconies and front yards or the roof."

This is what I would like. Even if they use a regular delivery truck most of the way, it would be great if they could cover the last fifty feet with a drone, to leave the package on my balcony.

(Amazon's switched to using their own courier service in my area. They make one delivery attempt only and won't leave packages at the door. So right now I can't use Amazon any more.)

Technically, this seems really hard, since GPS might not be enough---too much interference close to the building, trees. But maybe it is possible to get enough onboard visual processing to make it doable. Pretty interesting research problem.

I think tree branches will be a rather large problem for these drones since you need a pretty high resolution 3D sensor to accurately detect them.

GPS is most certainly not enough for navigation next to a building since you can hardly get an accuracy below 5m. I would bet on navigation by computer vision and 3D sensors.

Another interesting aspect of this is the choice of location where to drop the package. You certainly would not appreciate finding your emergency math textbook in the middle of your flower bed. This could for example be solved by setting up delivery spots in advance, or perhaps by using human judgement through something like Amazon's Mechanical Turk.

This could for example be solved by setting up delivery spots in advance, or perhaps by using human judgement through something like Amazon's Mechanical Turk.

You'll just get your Amazon Prime Beacon™ which you just put on the floor and sends out little pulses to guide the drone.

I love the image of a drone hovering in front of my window, waiting for me to let it in.

But I doubt it's technically feasible.

If range is a problem, a drone could move a package to the next depot and leave it with another drone, or use that stop to replace its battery before continuing.

I could deliver to the nth floor with a giant slingshot, angry birds style.

Heh. "Angry Retailers."


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