(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.
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  and aerial work such as photography if certain requirements are met . 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" 
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.)
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.
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?
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
> 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.
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
> 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
> ...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.
This is an awesome idea of course. It's a glimpse into the future.
I remember tweeting with Chris Anderson of 3D Robotics about a year ago about autonomous package delivery from A > B. I'm sure Bezos and team started nerding out on this concept years ago.
Eventually, "vehicles" the size of UPS trucks will be delivering packages autonomously all over the world. This is definitely a glimpse into that day.
And it won't end at just packages, you're going to see food, produce, perishables, medicine (bye bye pharmacy pickups) and many more products delivered to the home via drone.
This is without a doubt the future.
However, like every awesome idea it comes with a boatload of challenges that need to be addressed and I fear some will be extremely difficult if not impossible to overcome.
Off the top of my head, I see a few issues with Amazon Prime Air, some will be resolved, and some won't, but that's the beauty and uncertainty when taking on rather innovative approaches to existing problems.
1. The FAA situation. Drones are going to have _very_ restricted airspace especially in populated metro areas, if the FAA grants them these privileges at all. If you look at Los Angeles/SF/NYC/DC/Boston, you see airspace that is so overcrowded that I just don't see how drones are going to be zipping around here. BUT, most US cities are urban areas, so if we lose delivery to the dense metropolis, this product could work very well. Just like you see in the video.
2. Aside from airspace regulations in popular cities, you have building density, apartments/condos that will make it tough to service (unless these buildings have custom built "delivery stations" somewhere, and that's a cool idea). So it's a glimpse into the replacement of the traditional mailbox. Now that's cool.
3. Package weight will certainly be a concern but Prime Air will still cover an enormous amount of items from Amazon. And I believe Prime Air will allow Amazon to actually expand their product catalog with previously-undeliverable items via traditional freight (food, perishables, medicine, etc.)
4. Humans. Humans are always a problem. You'll have kids/idiots trying to steal and shoot these things down. This is a minor problem that won't necessarily end, but people will get in trouble and they'll pay fines/etc.
5. Safety. Safety is important, Amazon will do whatever it can to prevent kids/adults from getting sliced by these blades but I think that this is inevitable.
6. Hardware failure. Sure, 4 rotors and redundancy. But we all know a few of these things are going to drop out of the sky with a box of wrenches and slam into someones car/face/house/bike/restaurant... That won't be good. But is it even possible to ensure this doesn't happen? Boeing airplanes fall out of the sky...
7. Weather. Be in no doubt these drones will drop left and right, lose course, altitude, etc. with sudden gusts of winds, environmental factors, etc. They're getting better but it's physics at play here.
All in all there are plenty of challenges to an awesome and risky endeavor.
What I don't really understand is WHY. What's the net-gain for Amazon. Will this ever fully replace UPS/USPS shipping for them? Maybe... But it will take at least 20+ years.
I somewhat see this as an experiment for Bezos and company. The R&D and hardware costs far exceed the pennies on the dollar they pay for UPS shipping. But it has that COOL FACTOR to it. It smells like the future. Would you pay extra for 30-minute delivery? Maybe a few times... I wonder about the utility here...
The "Why" has to do with increasing market size for Amazon.
If they can deliver small items to you in 30 minutes with no delivery fee, all sorts of things you need in the very short term stop being a trip to the store and become a drone shipment from Amazon. This opens up HUGE markets for them.
I also think people are thinking of the distribution network a bit wrong. They can keep a large number of items in a small space, particularly if the warehouse becomes sort of like those old magnetic tape storage robots you used to see. You could condense an entire Wallgreen's (almost every item of which is drone-able) down to a large room. So the practicality of having a number of them in a city becomes more and more viable. Of course you'd have software optimizing for the most common items on a per-distribution center basis (I bet Amazon already does this on a macro scale).
Add in long-haul robotic trucks feeding the distribution centers and you can see where this is going.
Yeah they can make use of the model employed by tesco in South Korea. Instead of trips to the grocery store, you can just tell amazon to deliver to your place. Ran out of batteries for your remote? Amazon! Heck, Amazon Book store would benefit LOADS from this. So yes, not only does this open up new markets, it also improves their existing businesses as well. No one likes to wait. And they could cash in on that! (Not to mention it would be pretty cool receiving stuff by drones) :P
I can see an Amazon Prime subscription coming with some type of landing pad dongle. You lay out your mat & dongle somewhere, put in an address and the drone flies to the address, listens for the signal from the dongle and drops the package on the 'X' if the details match. My bank currently gives me a two-factor dongle for secure logins, same type of approach for authenticating delivery and indicating a safe landing area.
There is a lot of really interesting problems to solve to turn this into a commercial service. Would be very fun to work on.
The last mile, the landing, might one day be a combination of a drone and a vehicle. It can fly but land and drive up to prevent injury, and use driveable tech as well as drone tech. It would advance both fields and maybe get us to flying cars one day, of course we'll probably never fly them ourselves, just computers. Autonomous drones and delivery vehicles would be awesome.
>The FAA situation. Drones are going to have _very_ restricted airspace especially in populated metro areas, if the FAA grants them these privileges at all. If you look at Los Angeles/SF/NYC/DC/Boston, you see airspace that is so overcrowded that I just don't see how drones are going to be zipping around here.
How do you figure? Do you realize how big the sky is? For every square foot of land there are tons of layers of airspace above it, and it's almost completely unused except for a few tall buildings and a relatively small number of flying vehicles (compared to what we manage to fit on the ground.)
Drones are fairly maneuverable and could be made with decent collision avoidance and sensors.
In addition to sensor-based collision avoidance you would probably want some means of communication between the drones so they can choose non-colliding flight paths in advance.
In the altitude these drones will be flying most of the regular traffic probably is composed of helicopters. For those Amazon could easily provide some means of requesting a temporary drone no-flight zone.
Ummm.... I couldn't see that video (restrictions on work internet) but AFAIK such small drones can fly up to a certain altitude. Sure you have an insanely large amount of sky up their but can these machines access that?
Imagine how many of these could fit on a single flat road. Then imagine stacking dozens of roads on top of that. Then imagine the roads are several times wider because there isn't any property or buildings in the way up there (with the exception of a few tall buildings in big cities.)
It will be a long, long, long time before we run out of airspace. It isn't the limiting resource at all.
I never doubted that we dont have enough of airspace, my question was can these lightweight machines make proper use of all that open space? how high can they fly? Because i am assuming these are relatively low-altitude aircrafts.
With respect to (1), why would delivery drones fly at high altitudes? I suspect that the only overlap in the flight envelopes of delivery drones and of manned fixed-wing aircraft will be riiiight around the airport, and during horrible plane crashes.
(Manned helicopters are another matter, but how many of those are there really? Even in the big cities.)
Personally I hope the commercial use of drones become evident and widespread and legislation lags behind it. The last thing we would want is strict military-only licenses for drones out of the fear someone will deliver some explosives to a politician with it.
It is pretty awesome, indeed. I'd say your issues aren't that big, though:
1. FAA is the toughest challenge, true that;
2. A good idea would be to use the roofs for delivery;
3. To add to that, people will buy a membership just for the convenience of getting a lot of small stuff in less than an hour without leaving the house/office. Hard drives, screw drivers, nuts and bolts, stuff for BBQs, etc.;
4. Stealing them will likely end with them being tracked by GPS, found and fined, people will learn not to do it soon enough :);
5/6/7. I think the failure rate will actually be extremely low - quadcopters are very resilient, and we've already seen how amazingly well they can handle the weather, bumping into buildings and flying with three rotors - obviously, Amazon will have to go with the best hardware design;
I think this could be big right away - as I said, many people want immediate delivery and with a subscription model, Amazon won't even have to ship all that often to start making money off of this.
I don't know about the US, but in the UK there are 'sky lanes' that helicopter pilots must follow.
And in all honesty, this would benefit Amazon, because then they don't require drone pilots. Just programme the 'lanes', rudimentary GPS and proximity sensors and keep the speed down so that collision-avoidance can be activated with sufficient time.
I can imagine FAA approval subject to a register of drone flightpaths and locations, but if something takes a knock from a bird (or malicious interception, as you suggested), I assume that Amazon would schedule a manual pick-up and replacement, wearing the cost in the process.
I think there's a significant long tail for products that may be eligible for 30-minute delivery. Pretty much the only time I go to a real store to buy something non-perishable is if I'm on a time constraint and can't wait for Amazon to ship the product.
If I need a cable or other electronic peripheral that isn't carried by big box stores, there's exactly one vendor in my metropolitan area that is likely to have it in stock, and they'll unabashedly charge 5x-10x what you'd pay to buy it on Amazon if you had 2-5 days to wait for the package's arrival. I'm sure there are many markets like that right now.
The potential this has to decimate many traditional retailers is super intriguing. What are we going to do with all of that extra space?
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.
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".
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.
> 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.
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)
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.
(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.
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...
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!
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.)
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.
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?
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.
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.
>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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .
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.
"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.
Apart from the Scifi-ness of having drones work well in the best of conditions, the back-up infrastructure required to support bad conditions would seem to make the whole venture unrealistic.
Let's say that a little drone could reliably carry a package to doorsteps 10 miles away. Let's assume that it can navigate past trees and power lines and kite strings and so forth.
So Amazon builds up these service centers with hundreds of drones delivering packages in a metro area to meet their delivery time commitments.
Then you get a few weeks of bad weather: regular daily thunderstorms, snow storms, a great deal of gusty weather, etc.
Do the delivery time commitments have caveats for consistently bad weather? Unless you live in California, you have to deal with days and days of rain or other foul weather that will eliminate a drone's ability to fly safely, much less be able to deliver a small package without damaging the contents.
When that happens, Amazon will need to maintain a fleet of trucks with drivers to take over. Maintaining that capacity will deeply cut into the profit of their business model.
It's just another option to add to the mix. Not everyone chooses next-day delivery, not everyone will choose 30-min delivery; the classic delivery infrastructure will likely remain in place. The service will just periodically be disabled: "due to severe weather in your area, PrimeAir is currently not available. Please check back later, or choose standard delivery."
It's still a question of capacity. Any drone deliveries that need to be made will take away from other delivery capacity. Given that standard vehicle delivery will be much more time consuming and much less parallelized than the drone delivery, drone outages will place a thrashing level of load on standard delivery unless a great deal of unutilized standard delivery capacity is kept idle most of the time.
That doesn't seem like a difficult problem to solve. Delivery isn't free, even if the customer isn't the one paying for it. If standard delivery becomes more expensive due to the weather-linked bursty nature of the load requiring additional provisioning, you just need to charge more for standard delivery. Which I'd expect a company like amazon to implement as a fair-weather discount, given the propensity of humans to be loss averse.
Isn't that already the case when bad weather strikes? Delivery trucks take longer to drive around in bad rain, or blizzards, or unpredictable traffic (resulting from accidents or road closures). The slower the truck, the more of them you need.
One in ten Americans, and likely a much larger portion of Amazon's customer base, and probably an even larger fraction of their revenues, is in California. So even if this only worked here, it could still be a wise investment.
The real-time nature of knowing that would allow them to turn on/off air delivery based on conditions or backup. I think the perfect world would be a combination of air and land autonomous vehicles. Maybe even the vehicles take it the last mile and it is flown in more robust air delivery drones more weather proof. Over time I am sure this will happen in some way.
I've flown gas and electric helicopters and airplanes as a hobby over the years. These small aircraft are very susceptible to bad weather. They're already going to be carrying a significant load with an attached package.
They won't be able to handle a great deal of weather adversity.
Have you flown computer-controlled multirotors? There's a big difference between fixed wing aircraft or helicopters and computer-controlled multirotors. These things are highly sophisticated and capable of making thousands of adjustments to the speeds of their rotors every second.
I think that a lot of comments here are missing a crucial point: in the next few years unmanned vehicles are going to play a major role in most of the transportation landscape, whereas this is for people or objects.
Amazon here is trying to play the same role that Google has been playing for a long time with their self driving cars. They are setting a standard and pushing for regulations and laws.
It is not that difficult to think that the future of unmanned vehicles won't be as naive as people may think. There will probably be a combination of different sets of vehicles that would go around for large distances and/or sizes, and different vehicles covering smaller distances and/or sizes. They can be used in series to optimize the traveling salesman problem in terms of what's powering these vehicles.
It's not that different from thinking of an ant-like distribution system.
And not that different from the Google approach of crawling the web, then crawling the actual world with google street view cars, eventually moving into self driving cars. Except you'll also get lots of metadata with it, that can be used and sold.
Amazon is now part of the game, moving the attention to drones and self flying objects.
I disagree that they're making the same play as Google. Google has never claimed they're going to make a self-driving car, or offer it as a service. As far as I can tell with a few minutes of googling, they don't even have a home page for the project. It's a research project and a tool to "push" the law in the direction Google wants.
Amazon, on the other hand, is 100% offering a product. It has a name, and they indicate a plan to, "enter commercial operations as soon as the necessary regulations are in place." This is partially about getting into the game early, but it's also focused on a product in a way that Google's car isn't.
I don't think we disagree on that. I'm not talking about the product side of things. I said and mean that Amazon is pushing for standards, regulations, laws etc. also by showing the possible demand side.
The reason why Google doesn't have a product, can be for multiple reasons, for example because they may (who knows) only want to create an Android OS-like self driving system, not necessarily building the cars. It's the same they did with smart phones.
If they want to dominate the car OS market, they might not need to present it as a product at this stage.
They just need, as Amazon, to push it enough to gain momentum and be one of the early players.
Brick-and-mortar stores are doomed. I can only see a few types of products remaining in brick-and-mortars: Clothes that you want to try for size, fruits and vegetables that you want to sample, and restaurants... any others?
My parents still buy EVERYTHING in brick and mortars. I work in a retail store, selling computers and accessories. People tell me it's dead, I can guarantee you it's not. Maybe when our parents generations are gone, but not until then.
Brick and mortars ought to pivot into the showroom business, à la Sony or Apple stores. That is practically what many have become (cough Best buy cough); the least they can do is charge manufacturers/distributors for display space.
That implies that they can get the manufacturers to pay them. BTW, explicit manufacturer showcasing is pretty uncommon today. You have the manufacturers' stores (Apple, Microsoft) and you have some limited showcasing in large retailers like B&H for photo. But it's pretty uncommon.
A recent trip to the Westfield Mall showed that's just about happened already. Almost every store there was selling clothing or some other product people would want to try before they buy. I you have to wonder with online delivery becoming the norm if those kinds of retail shops will become more marketing showrooms than drivers of actual sales for brands.
Robotic sewing machines, 3D printers, downloadable textile construction packages, and motion sensors paired with modeling software to try on virtual clothes will someday end retail clothing as well.
The need to sample things by taste (or other senses) could also conceivably end in the near future through downloads of software packages consisting of instructions for chemical synthesis of tastes and appropriate output settings for the sensory simulation hardware. 
Um, $165 isn't bad for a cashmere sweater (though to be honest I don't know anything about the quality of the stuff on this site). I took note because I don't know of a custom shirt place in Boulder, and I miss the 3 or 4 that were near my place in Houston. I hear professional women really appreciate having nice custom shirts as well.
I'm just saying, if you look at off the rack dress shirts they'll be $30-$60, similarly with most of the other items. Sure, it might be better quality, and it'll certainly fit better, but I can't afford $1600 for ten shirts. $400 sounds a lot better, and I'm not jumping up to run and get that deal either.
That's fair I suppose. I won't argue in favor of spending more just for the privilege of doing so. But A quick look at Banana Republic puts the rack price in the $60 to $125 range, and I'd hope there is a noticeable quality difference between 'fancy gap' and tailored clothing.
Correct, but hopefully they'd fit. I have a couple of yak wool sweaters from Khunu, and they run really small. Luckily my first one ended up fitting my girlfriend well enough for her to keep it. The replacement I got fits very well, and is generally amazing (as sweaters go). Now I office out of the same space as one of the co-founders too :)
as long as there's free delivery/cheap delivery I would agree. However if the delivery charges are half the price of the item. No thanks, will go my ways finding the same deal in local dealers.
Edit: I forgot about pickups, I guess that counts as online. Maybe true, then
It doesn't seem like the battery density exists for anything except fairly short distances with very small packages. For the vast majority of deliveries, this could only be a "last mile" mechanism, with the bulk of each delivery happening via more traditional transport. 30-minute delivery from the warehouse? Not going to be possible for 99% of purchases, even those that are under the weight limits.
Moreover, you can't just have hoardes of flying vehicles randomly over populated areas (and if this was at all practical, every company and its dog company would be trying to do the same thing), so you'd need fairly strict regulations on where they actually fly, and a system for managing them (e.g. limiting the number of flights by all companies). They'd probably need to do things like limit the paths that could be followed, maybe above public roads (which would reduce the delivery radius). Whatever happens, the (necessary, because it involves public safety and contention for a limited common resource) regulation and government control is going to slow the process down, probably a lot more than Amazon's timeline suggests...
Even if they could grind through all the problems, get government support, and setup a system to do final delivery of very small purchases by air... is the investment required to do all this worth it to be able to deliver a vanishingly small proportion of packages more quickly?
What this really looks like is an unintentional leak of Amazon's next April 1st gag...
Actually, contention for air space wouldn't be that bad.
Modern airplanes have a pressure transponder which announces your flight id and the air pressure at your location. From which you can determine a direction, id, and altitude.
Create an automated ATC, some simple separation rules (100' vertical, 500' horizontal), and order that drones flying east are on odd multiples of 100', westbound flights on even multiples. You know where thing is and where it's going. Maybe add in some prohibited zones around airports or tall buildings and you are pretty much done.
The thing is, if this idea proves viable, there are going to be (or at least there will be demand for) many orders of magnitude more of these than there are traditional types of air vehicles... And because of the very short range, much of that will probably be in dense urban areas (so it won't be anything like evenly distributed).
So... I dunno if traditional approaches to avoiding airspace contention will work so well...
Would we have more than an order of magnitude more flight traffic than road traffic? I would argue no.
We might. This sort of disruptive innovation could be staggering in scope. I could imagine putting in an order for a weekly grocery bill and having dozens of drones deliver the items from all over the place. Currently, we have an infrastructure that assumes we'll ship myriad items to a centralized clearing house (hub topology). It'd actually be far more efficient to eliminate this redundant, single point of failure and build something more akin to a mesh network. Items such as locally grown produce may even be shipped directly from farm to doorstep.
A quadrotor (or 8-rotor here) drone depends on rapidly throttling the propeller speed on each arm up and down, something that you can't do with a mechanical transmission without adding a lot of weight. You can do a gas/electric hybrid, but again, weight.
I kind of also wonder why not a more traditional articulated rotor helicopter design. The point of the quadrotors is they're cheap and simple, despite being much less efficient. Surely the capital investment in a full fleet of these things would favor a true helicopter rotor.
To minimize noise and visual pollution, it would be better for these drones to fly low, along existing roads to take advantage of existing noise abatement measures (e.g. noise barriers walls, berms, roadside vegetation, etc.)
>>I had to seriously check to see it wasn't April 1st.
Honestly; I'm still not sure if this is a joke or not. This totally fits the kind of stuff Google likes to do on April 1st.
If this became real, I'd go out of my way to order things just to see that show up at my door. And I'm sure it won't be long until people plan on catching the device when it shows up. Even I probably couldn't resist the temptation of catching it and I'll probably have to pay a penalty, but it'd be worth it.
I'm pretty certain they are serious. Internally, I don't know if they really think this is going to become something right away, but I think AMZ knows that there's possibility in this field and I think they hope that this move spurs some research and progress in this area by other companies and kickstarts the needed legal structure from the government agencies in question.
If this develops more promise they will be well positioned to take advantage of it.
They'll probably include a smoke beacon/flare of some type, ostensibly to make crash sites more visible, but probably most utilized as a deterrent to would-be trappers who don't want their house to be filled with obnoxious sensory effects like smoke, odor, or alarm. Not to mention, assuming their navigation systems remain functional, it shouldn't be too hard for the drone's owner to locate and reclaim their property.
I wonder whether this might necessitate the creation of a kind of "landing pad" with bluetooth LE beacons to signal to the approaching drone where to deliver the goods, that and/or a Santa's Chimney-like chute (I'm thinking apartment complexes) that can obviate the need for the drone to "land" at human level.
One also marvels at the possibility for home-to-home delivery, say, for used items, or the ability to have returned items "picked-up" by these drones. A fascinating avenue.
Why would they announce it now. . . let's see a day before Cyber Monday and my guess is that 1) they are sincerely doing this, but 2) they are aware up the inevitable PR uptick the day before the busiest online shopping event of the year. Nice move to garner a lot a free attention that will result in greater overall (non-drone-delivered) sales.
Great idea, for small items. A few other companies are exploring this, but with the funding from Amazon, and the scale Amazon delivers at, it could make a lot of sense for them - they could actually make this a reality. I'd try this out just to see the Octocopter coming in to land.
Weight will be a problem I guess, as many of the things Amazon delivers are larger and would be difficult to carry on a drone unless it was a significant size. So small items only, at least initially.
I did also wonder about landing spots - these things are going to need a guaranteed flat spot to land, so that they are not damaged and can take off again, but I guess with a smartphone the user could indicate their preferred landing spot via GPS.
And of course there is an issue with airspace and regulation, which I guess will be their biggest hurdle - flight paths over cities could get pretty busy quite quickly, and you'd need some sort of one way system or sophisticated traffic control to avoid collisions, so a bit of a headache for authorities to coordinate, but these are all soluble problems.
Has anyone calculated the energy usage of sending a 1kg package 10km alongside 100s of other packages on a diesel powered UPS truck vs sending it by itself, hanging below a battery powered octacopter? How much more/less energy does the octacopter consume per package?
I recall reading about shipments of Pentium (II?) processors being hijacked from trucks. I believe some people were even killed. The value of a truckload of new Intel processors is rather high though. Enough that someone may decide the risk in an armed robbery is worth it.
At least in my apartment, this would almost be easier than a traditional delivery since they can just leave it on the roof. I think a lot of buildings have roof access, which would be a great/secure spot to leave your packages.
The only way I could imagine this working in even moderately densely populated areas is with some sort of landing pad. Maybe it's as simple as laying out a ~3' square cardboard pad with a QR code or some other fiducials, or maybe as complex as an active beacon or GPS enabled pad.
Avoiding powerlines seems like a fairly tough problem as well. Are drone-sized object sensors (ultrasonic? LIDAR?) accurate enough to see thin power lines?
Let's take a strategic look at this.
Its a shot across the bow at Google Shopping Express, Ebay Now, InstaCart (to an extent), TaskRabbit (meh maybe), and all the others focusing on the same day delivery business.
Its also a direct shot at Walmart, whose customers in non-dense cities all have a store within 30 min drive of their location. Walmart isn't in the big cities (in their normal fashion), walmart is suburbs. Target is suburbs. Walgreens/CVS might worry about this too, as it could kill a bunch of impulse or time sensitive shopping if amazon ran this 24/7.
Things to consider:
- what is the cost per drone?
- what is the cost to operate? Fuel? are these fully autonomous?
This paired with self-driving cars is potentially shifting the dynamics of delivery companies (imagine if the ups driver was just a guy in the truck, not driving it). Or the truck had 2 delivery guys, neither one driving...
Anyway, I see this as a fascinating experiment.
Worth looking into as well: http://matternet.us/ this has been around a while. I heard of it through singularity university people.
Considering how signatures are mostly a farce (I routinely sign for my wife or my neighbours, who do the same for me), that's not a big deal: you'll just choose "classic" delivery via courier if you're really worried about that.
Interception is a real problem though, especially in high-crime areas. You could reduce it with some sort of hardened container which can be opened only with a certain code.
> Interception is a real problem though, especially in high-crime areas. You could reduce it with some sort of hardened container which can be opened only with a certain code.
Any container that is sufficiently "hardened" enough to stop any trivial access attempt would also be much heavier/larger (or have a smaller internal volume) - which would require a larger drone or a shorter distance. And short of carrying a safe, there's probably little you could do to prevent someone from getting at the goods.
Interestingly enough, the country that is likely to allow the use of delivery drones into regulations is also the country with the highest number of guns-per-capita.
> Interestingly enough, the country that is likely to allow the use of delivery drones into regulations is also the country with the highest number of guns-per-capita.
- FAA roadmap mentioning Cargo transport via drones: http://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/uas/media/UAS_Roadmap_2....
The correlation is absurd and doesnt make any sense.
I think you've misunderstood the point of the signature.
If they drop it next door, they note which house they dropped it at and also have a signature to show someone actually took it.
The point is not to show that a particular person received the package, but that someone received the package. 99.9% of the time that's enough. If it wasn't and was impacting their bottom line, they'd have started taking photos of recipients by now.
I assume the delivery must be made available on private property to avoid the case of stealing when the drone drops the package.
As for the shooting, well it is illegal and would be punished. The copter would very probably be equipped with a video camera with a feed streaming back home which would help recognize the attacker. Then after a few publicized examples, most people would cease such activities.
No, they're not entirely unsuitable for urban areas. Instead, their (relatively) short range means that they're unsuitable for anything except urban areas.
If designed poorly, they would be very unsafe, but there are plenty of ways to increase the safety. For example, notice that the drones have more than 4 rotors. This gives a bit of redundancy so that a motor can fail without causing the drone to crash.
Skycrane landing. I've been reading and reading and can't believe it hasn't been mentioned - the drone simply unreels the payload on a cable while hovering until it gets to the ground. Then you either detach the clips, or, use a disposable cable and just clip the wires at the drone-end (saves on possibly tangles).
The whole thing shouldn't weigh very much, assuming it's limited to delivering lightweight objects, and the rotors could be covered with a screen. I don't see much potential for danger. The worst thing that could happen would be a total system failure causing it to drop out of the sky, and even that could probably be mitigated with something like a failsafe that deploys a parachute if the speed is too high.
It should be safer than multi-ton delivery trucks, which can and have killed people. I was a mailman at one time - we were required to get out and look behind the truck before backing up because a mailman once killed a toddler who wandered behind his truck (though I doubt very many carriers actually follow that rule).
I'm not sure why this keeps being mentioned. Seems easy enough to build a common landing zone for pickups. Roof, open grass area, etc. If you were an apartment owner, is there no way you could think of solving that issue?
We've had armed drones for a lot longer than delivery drones. "Please put down your weapon. You have 20 seconds to comply. You are in direct violation of Amazon and Federal Penal Code 1.13, Section 9."
Guys, this is science fiction getting real and this is kick ass. This is awesomeness. Kudos to JB. And I think this would work without having any big issues. Reasons are:
1. Amazon will wait for the FAA approval before deploying this . This means, the max. weight a copter can carry at any given time would be limited. As some one said, if AMZ starts shipping heavier packages beyond a certain limit there is a risk that it might be dropped and causes injury or death.
2. AMZ would not deliver it across cities. Pls. see the video. It's mentioned that it would be within 30 mins of pressing buy button. This means the radius of the delivery is controlled and monitored from either the fulfillment centers or a central control center.
3. Consider attaching a video camera for delivering the goods. It would also record the whole delivery process for many aspects. It would have a visual footage of who picked it up, whether it was delivered to the correct location etc. This covers legal aspects as well.
4. People would love to have this way of things delivered to them since they would save a lot of time going to the store, spending on gas, waiting in lines etc. oh..btw, this is good environment too. Less gas usage.
Now, the question is how would UPS, FedEx and USPS react to this? They would still be delivering the goods via road to drone inaccessible locations. What if the weather doesn't permit? Would not AMZ have a back up plan of delivering only to the places where weather is not bad? Why would they send the drone into a tornado effected area? Think my fellow HN readers. Think.
Now, the next aspect is security. Can someone spoof the GPS location and re-route the packages? May be. If that's the case, the video recording would help as mentioned earlier.
We already have this in China. The SF Express has been testing these for years. Just last year we got the drop off boxes that amazon has been installing in 7-11s installed into our building. It's used for all package deliveries not just amazon.
Vernor Vinge described a similar rocket-based delivery system in his short story "Fast Times at Fairmont High", which eventually became the novel Rainbows End. Crazy to see this actually happening in the real world.
You really want to see Jacques Tati's "Jour de fête". It's the 14th of July, French national holiday, late 1940s. There is the traditional village fair and party. The village mailman gets inspired by a combination of alcohol consumption and a stunt movie about speedy modern American mail delivery.
An absolutely hilarious prequel to this drone delivery thing, and a must see for people even remotely working on this project or anything similar.
Say you could navigate the package from the warehouse to a persons property, how would you deliver the package while eliminating the risk of injury? My thought would be to have the drone phone home so that a real human could perform/oversee this last stage of delivery. In cities you could see if delivering to a rooftop is feasible to avoid having to negotiate sidewalks/people.
A lot of obstacles in the way here but I would love to see
this succeed. I envision a world where a table sized gas powered version of this could carry more packages futher.
The ire towards "drones" is quite puzzling to me, most technology came from an initial military backing and soon this will be our daily lives.
Right now you can not legally fly a "drone" commercially, all flight by multirotor UAS over US soil is classified as hobby, educational, or government right now. That is where 2015 comes in, the FAA is suppose to make a ruling dictating commercial flight regulations and processes. (http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2012-02/under-newly...)
Currently two vehicles have been certified for flight but they are in a ~20k price range. The estimates on this vehicle are very reasonable for technological advances in the next two years. The opensource community has already created the software technology and a multirotor device of this size could conceivably run for 30min especially with advances is battery and motor/prop technologies.
Perhaps Amazon wants to attempt to shift America's focus on drones, and how they can have positive effects on our lives. Sounds like a good plan especially if they are able to provide emergency supplies to remote locations, or just get us use to them assisting in daily activities.
Wonder what it costs to charge ~15000mah battery vs the driving cost.
Pretty neat concept.
But if the goal is to deliver within 30 minutes, I wonder why does amazon need a drone? Domino's certainly dint need a drone to deliver pizza's.
Given the cost of research and manufacturing of the drone, I bet this would be just a fancy R&D project. Plus dont forget the lack of accuracy the drone would have, there has to be a manual interception thus questioning the original concept itself. Musk is upto hyperloop, Bezos is upto drones; I think the former one is far more realistic and needed.
Once they have tens of thousands of these operating, i'd imagine per unit cost will fall below $2000 within few years, even accounting for R&D. If it can deliver 10 packages per day (accounting for charge time), that's 3600 deliveries per year. Even if you have to replace it after 1 year, it's 50-60 cents per delivery.
This will be perfect for suburbs nearby metropolitan regions.
I know they said it about the milkman, about the Ice delivery guy, about the postman, the morse code telegram specialist, the travel agent and soon, the bank clerk, and anything else brick and mortar. And I know I'm old fashioned and sound like I'm against innovation and progress. (I'm not)
But sadly all I can think of is the unemployed delivery people this is going to replace
Do you get to keep the box? :-) That is a pretty bold vision for product delivery. On the one hand we have "software eating the world" (everything is a download) and on the other "hardware is cool again" (drone delivery). I sometimes think though that this may become this generation's "jet pack."
>>On the one hand we have "software eating the world" (everything is a download) and on the other "hardware is cool again" (drone delivery).
The hardware in this case must be driven by incredibly complex software, both on the drone and in the central HQ that controls the fleet. Without that software, these things would be no different than regular RC quadcopters.
It seems to me that if this is to seriously take off, it would require a distribution center in every major city, at the very least.
If anyone can pull it off, I think Amazon can.
I wrote a term paper on them for my last class in school, based on the then - predicted entry into grocery delivery.
I feel like Amazon is one of the few large companies that has been innovative and has the possibility to be seriously disruptive to the economy.
Some of what was talked about... same-day delivery of groceries. They'd likely have their own fleet. What does this mean for the existing big name grocers? Same-day delivery of regular merchandise. What would this mean for UPS and/or FedEx?
If I were a Mom & Pop shop, and I knew Amazon was coming to town, that would make me lose sleep at night at least as much as Walmart, if not more.
I really don't see this coming before self drivinng cars/van will just drive to your location and open up a hatch for you to collect your goods. Drones are only good for short ranges, light products and not to dense populated locations. Auto driving cars ars would be a hell of a lot more flexible.
Isn't it more likely they'll use these drones inside their warehouses to fill orders? Longterm maybe home delivery but they/Bezos have to be planning on using this to process orders inside their warehouses.
so is this all misdirection, or really their longterm plan?
So, this is the wave of the future. Now, how do I make money on this, apart from buying Amazon stock or starting a drone company (which are going under in droves, I should add)? Is this going to be a first-past-the-post thing? I can't see how any other retailer will be able to compete with this, once they start rolling it out, and assuming they won't be offering DDaaS (drone delivery as a service - you heard it here first folks). I'm not sure how much the marginal delivery costs for Amazon are going to be, but this might give them a 10% (!) increased profit in an already very low-margin market? That would obliterate most competition.
5-7 years out? I bet Bezos also has teleportation on the radar for sometime in the 2200 timeframe. Why didn't he announce that?
All of this is nice, but until someone actually operationalizes this and announces that I can actually have something delivered to my house in 30 minutes, then this means little. As it stands right now, I find Amazon's promise of 2-day delivery to frequently fail (in the SF Bay Area, so a high customer density) and find their non-existent customer support to be frustrating. I would frankly be more excited if I could actually get my packages in 2 days right now than over the future prospect of 30 minute delivery.
To deal with the issues of landing Amazon Prime Air would best be served by sending you a plastic "landing square" when you subscribe so that you designate the place in your garden so that the Drone knows where to land and you can keep an eye on it. With an iBeacon built into it it can guide the drone landing and even use IR to warn the drone of nearby movement/people. This would also serve as a signal to members of the public that it is a potential landing zone (perhaps with a red flashing light when a drone is making a land).
Amazon could even give you a discount if you allow the drone to recharge at your landing point.
My main concern is environmental impact. I'd be interested in an analysis of the effects of producing these drones + environmental cost of powering them + environmental cost of producing those yellow boxes vs. cost of delivery truck
Good job on finding that URL. This is really cool to share with my Facebook friends, and I have to like the tone of the ad copy that Amazon is preparing on this page, which is still in testing, as it would appear.
A couple comments have addressed the issue of people potentially shooting down the drones. I think this is very likely, as it appears even a decent slingshot or arrow could take one down if the shooter was close enough.
But another scenario I didn't see mentioned is the potential for the drones to be captured. Let's say a carder orders a delivery to an unoccupied house. When the drone lands, the carder tosses a big net over the drone. Once it's disabled, the control unit can disconnected and either replaced or re-programmed.
I think a drone is probably more realistic in the short term. A self-driving car still has to get the package from the street to your porch, and while I'm sure someone's working on a little robotic deliveryman, the drone combines both transit and delivery in one package.
When I want to return something will a drone come by and pick up the return? because that has A LOT of value.
Imagine being able to order something on amazon just to 'try it out', you get an hour to make sure x part works, drone hangs around, and if it doesn't you drop it back in the tupperware and the drone flies it back to the fulfillment center and your card is never even charged
I wonder if this will impact their relationship with couriers.
I guess it's mostly been smooth sailing until now (as Amazon grew, so did they), but this is an actual threat to their business model. Amazon would still need a large amount of classic logistics, but couriers would lose the final mile.
Courier drivers might want to consider a career change very soon.
Any speculation on what the cost of delivery with this service will be (I'm guessing very few people currently take advantage of the 1-day delivery option, let alone same day, so I would guess this will need to be cheaper than those to be commonplace)?
Also why is this better/faster/cheaper than just hiring someone to deliver things on demand ala TaskRabbit?
One thing to note is that this isn't technologically far-fetched: military UAVs can deliver multi-hundred-kilogram payloads today. Making this a reality won't require unthinkable technology -- it will require steep reductions in cost, which Amazon is very good at, and acceptance by regulators and the public (anyone's guess).
we've been flying with drones (mainly octos) with heavy payloads for a while now - http://londonhelicam.co.uk . RED Epics, Phantom high speed cameras, a lot of expensive and heavy cameras.
The main thing is energy density - the current gen LiPo batteries only allow for about 10-15 mins flight with a reasonable payload. Considering Amazon will have to do a roundtrip, this will not give them a very long range.
The second thing is safety - we never fly above people. I don't think the authorities will allow Amazon to fly over populated areas until the tech is 100% safe, which it isn't yet.
I think we're looking around the same time frame as with self driving electric cars becoming commonplace. Many of the problems with battery life and safety are shared. Maybe around 7 years?
Energy density combined with mechanical efficiency. I could see something like this being viable if they could find a way to make it a hyper-efficient VTOL fixed-wing craft, but quad/hex/octo-copters from an efficiency standpoint are really quite poor electricity-to-thrust converters.
I guess we are getting closer and closer to the Pizza delivery technologies described in Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. Entire industries dedicated to getting things into consumer's hands faster and faster. The "now" in "I want it now" keeps getting shorter and shorter.
I really hope they can pull this off, I think it would be amazing. Not only would it be great from a customer's stand point, but think about how much better it would be for the environment. Millions of miles driven by delivery trucks polluting the air being replaced by drones. Outstanding!
I hope eventually drones will just deliver raw materials and resources for product materialization (next generation manufacturing) at home or on-site, using both commercial and open source product materialization specifications distributed electronically.
The only concern i have is the propellers, can they be encased to avoid accidental injury? I remember having this conversations when "taco copter" made HN front page, i am assuming by now there is a way to make the propellers collision safe.
Late to the discussion, but I'm surprised no one is discussing the non-technical implications of drones. Even if safety/security/etc can be guaranteed 100%, personally I wouldn't want my view of the sky to be littered by drones.
While technologically fascinating, is it just me or are we creating a really sad sad world, where we eliminate all human interaction and pollute or skies with these ugly annoying things. I wholeheartedly hopes this fails as hard as possible.
I think this is great news. It's innovation and will cause a even bigger revolution in the retail business. Obviously, there's a lot to be considered before actually putting it out there, but I believe this will be very successful.
Im working with UAV's in Afghanistan right now and just saw the video for this. Im just wondering where i need to apply to get into this job as soon as i can. Anyone know where i should try to contact or look for the job listings?
Not only do I hope this succeeds, but -- assuming this would be available for third parties -- it would actually advance my wife's business plan immensely. To use an overstated phrase, it would be a real game-changer.
Loud jumbo mosquitoes constantly buzzing around my neighborhood, ruining my view and endangering my kids? I want 30 minute delivery, but not that badly. I can plan ahead and exercise patience, or use a bike messenger.
haha awesome, sweet video and a great project. Its kind of like the refugee camp pill delivery quad we prototyped at MHacks. 2 big questions: 1) how do they handle motor failure, drones falling out of the sky? 2)How do they auto land? Its too soon for some sort of real time obstacle avoidance / image processing / auto landing without heavy lidar, and a lot of compute. What about range? These drones only fly for max 20 minutes at 20mph so you'd have to live within 3 ish miles.
I don't think there is a point where you don't try to get as much as marketing as possible and Jeff Bezos is a very ambitious person who likes to be seen as "crazy but very successful innovator". As far as I can see, Amazon has only two major man-in-the-middle parties left: the parcel services and banks.
My guess is that Amazon tries to buy or build their own parcel service company in areas where parcel services don't compete enough (= not cheap and fast enough for Amazon).
This PrimeAir marketing stunt could therefor be a message to their current parcel services to get faster and cheaper OR amazon will enter the market and do it themselves.
The awesome part is, (and I'm pulling numbers out of my ass here) for a 10 dollar delivery fee, or maybe a 100 dollar subscription to prime air with an average of ~10 items shipped), this thing would pay itself off within days.
I assume that the kind of quadcopter that could lift a few kg and had decent flight time would probably run you 3-4k with today's tech, at consumer prices. Even then, a fairly good investment. At bulk prices with 4 years in the future tech, this thing would pay for itself in no time.
I've been checking them out too. Really cool tech. I spent a couple hours watching people's Phantom2 drones get lost/damaged on YouTube today. Convinced me when I eventually decide to get one, it won't be that model unless they've fixed its tendency to attempt a get-away.
There's the obvious question, why bring up the subject now when they don't even have the technology ready? The answer is easily revealed by the response: to get over the giggle factor as early as possible. Right now much of the commentary is about how ridiculous or silly this is, but that will fade with exposure and with publicity of successes in testing.
There are lots of things that have the same problem. Legalized marijuana, space tourism, reusable launch vehicles, manned mars missions, 3D printed organs, etc. Often times it's as important to get over the giggle factor as it is to build something that works. Personal computers and tablet computers ran into the same problem, but once people stopped thinking of them as toys people got down to the business of making practical use of them.
A possible solution for the location issues: why not have it deliver to a predetermined booth-like location? Think: Redbox.
Of course, this would be much more valuable if it was set up as a open-source-ish thing (where, for instance, an HOA could set up a "Amazon AirPad" for free). But this would greatly reduce some of the problems otherwise inherent in a delivery system like this, such as (but not limited to):
Apartments (or duplexes, for that matter), pet/child liabilities, cars, slightly-off coordinates that result in your neighbor or your pool being the drop-off spot, highly dense neighborhoods, highly wooded areas, no-doorstep apartments, etc.
This will be a huge issue, even if Amazon gets this through the FAA, there are going to be all kinds of local interests expressing their concerns. What happens when one of these gets tied up in an overhead power lines? Did folks living near the fulfillment centers (assuming the warehouse were there first) sign up to live near a heliport, with dozens+ of aerial noise sources buzzing off every day? What about trees, etc?
This looks cool, and Amazon has some smart folks so this will likely work itself out over time, but there is going to be a lot to overcome.
If you lookup the history you will learn that, for example, a I-highways in the USA were build for military first, in order to quickly move people and military around the states. Its only later on has been opened to the public.
I say the FAA will keep the air to police, fire departments, cia, fbi, etc, before they open it up to private solutions. Most likely 10 years from now.
Nah. I'm sure they won't promise perfect availability to every customer for every product, at least not initially. There will be a gradual rollout.
But it's not as big a deal as you're making it out to be. They're already able to deliver all their things on a reliable schedule to every house in the US. That's the hard part. To do this, they just need to squeeze some more waste and latency out of the system. They've already proven to be very good at that.
Remember, our current logistics systems already move basically all the goods Americans need to within a 15 minute drive already; they just make customers do the final pickup themselves at distribution centers (which we call stores). This is just switching the last-mile burden from buyers to the seller.
If Amazon gets this working well, there will be plenty of empty big-box stores to serve as local caches.