I am not a technology expert and I am not a marketing expert but, as a consumer, I have moved gradually over the years from using Amazon primarily for online book-buying to using it extensively for all kinds of retail buying needs. The Prime service has been central to that experience because human psychology appears to be perverse and something so small as "free" 2-day shipping, though not really free, seems to have given me ample incentive to buy from Amazon when I could just as easily have bought from someone else. I am not sure why exactly. It just proved the path of least resistance. Being fast, efficient, and reliable, it worked and makes me a reflexive Amazon customer. I buy books, DVDs, select grocery items, and quite an array of other things from Amazon that I could just as easily be buying from others and "free" delivery via Prime has been a major factor in shaping that habit for good or for bad as concerns whatever my true self interests may be in the buying choices. What is more, as video streaming has begun to supplant things such as DVDs, I have moved somewhat zombie-like into Amazon's Prime streaming service for the reason, among others, that I have developed my reflexive relationship with the company and have found it easy to try their other offerings before I will move to offerings of other vendors. Again, this has all been bundled with Amazon's Prime service, with which the company now packages a broad range of "free" streaming resources into the annual cost of the service.
If my experience is at all typical of other consumers, I would guess that Amazon's Prime strategy is central to its whole attempt to conquer worldwide retailing and therefore that amazing delivery capacity lies at its heart, whether instantly via things such as video streaming or highly expedited in the case of tangible products.
Now Amazon could continue to rest comfortably upon its existing accomplishments by which it has used third-party delivery services to achieve a big part of its goals. But it is not. Indeed, it is spending huge sums of money to build massive warehousing facilities all over the place in support of a long-term plan to achieve super-fast delivery. And, in doing so, it has abandoned its former (and highly effective) strategy of trying to avoid physical "presence" in the various states in order to avoid having to hold back sales/use taxes from its customers.
So, fanciful or not in their present state of technological development and in the present state of legal and regulatory tangles that might arise, drones of the type shown in Amazon's promotional materials can hardly be called a simple marketing ploy to divert attention from some otherwise critical publicity affecting Amazon or its founder. The huge benefits to Amazon as a universal retailer that might from such a delivery mechanism are stupendous and obvious. If it should prove unfeasible to gain these benefits owing to technological limitations, that is one thing. If regulators should attempt to freeze delivery mechanisms to current forms and bar new ones such as drones, that is yet another thing. Such barriers may prove insuperable and cause the effort to fail. But to accuse Amazon of not being ready, willing, and able to devote even vast resources to the potential use of drones as part of its broader strategy - and instead to be using this as a mere publicity stunt - is, in my view, to miss the obvious. Amazon has a long-term goal of becoming the primary shopping source for millions of consumers across a broad range of products. It wants to leverage technology in ways that help remove the physical-presence advantage used by traditional brick-and-mortar retailers. If it can do so by building vast warehouses and then finding a magic way of delivering products to consumers in ways that better what they can do by visiting the local retail store, why not go for it. And not just go for it but really go for it, with a massive investment of time, energy, and capital with the long-term view of using this strategy to achieve potential exponential growth over competitors.
Whatever else this is, it cannot be mere vaporware. The fact that its announcement may have been accompanied by conventional marketing hype and by what may have even been a cynical deal with news outlets to agree to promote it on a big shopping day only confirms the seriousness of the effort, in my view. People like to get excited about exciting possibilities. Steve Jobs knew that and his way of presenting has become legendary. Mr. Bezos has some of that same flair and, when combined with adept entrepreneurial skills, stands to make an amazing mark in the annals of commerce. He may win in the end or he may lose. But he is going for the big win and he is doing it with flair.
You may like what Amazon is doing or you may hate it but it can't be denied that it is bold, daring, and very real. The author here misses it altogether in suggesting otherwise.
A startup in Australia, Flirtey,† has partnered with a university textbook seller to deliver books via hexacopter on/near campus. They are hoping to begin operation next March. When the drone arrives, the customer presses a button on their smartphone app, and the package is lowered down to them.
> Organising something like this in a controlled area like a campus must be a few orders of magnitude simpler than organising something like this across the US.
Not necessarily. When a new address comes up, a human operator might takes a look at a satellite image of the address and give the drone an appropriate location to land on the property. That data would then be stored. 15 seconds with a human, one time only, is all it would take to make this easy in most neighborhoods.
What about navigating TFRs? Class B airspace? What about failures of the rotors whilst flying over heavily populated areas? Will these things be equipped with TCAS to avoid oncoming traffic? What happens if the path-finding algorithm to get from Amazon's warehouse to your house goes batshit insane and flies it in the approach path to LAX? Who files the flight plan for each of these things?
To quote Steve Yegge, "people will die... if it's YOU... you're going to be really pissed off." 
You joke, but why not? Rent a small shop and put a landing pad on the roof, which then feeds a vending machine as the storefront. That also solves the authentication problem since it's easy to require a credit card swipe or a smartphone ping to dispense the package.
Granted the ability to deliver directly to homes may face years of legal issues, like self-driving cars. However, there are plenty of problems that can be solved today by current technology, or products that are 12-24 months out, where you don't need FAA approval, like in agriculture.
At this point I wouldn't call it vaporware, its not that far along.
Most of the technology to do this is in place now. I won't try to argue that the current generation technology is actually cost-effective for drone delivery, but flight control, navigation, collision avoidance, etc., all exist in some form now. A hexacopter has some robustness (it can be designed to still fly with a single motor failure).
Most of the hurdles now are regulatory and economic. I don't know if those can be effectively surmounted, but if anyone can do it, I'm sure Amazon can.
All of the technology for Duke Nukem Forever was available. People are just as much of a problem with vaporware products. With the drones, Amazon will have to deal with the tech in various forms, the people problem (shooting them down, capturing them, stealing packages, etc), and the regulatory problem.
Why do you consider a 5 year development period to be so long that we should consider it only a fantasy today? I might say that of a product that was promised in something like 25 years, but come on, video games take 5 years to develop. Five years is nothing.
The speed is not something that can be underestimated. I recently ordered from an online store here in Australia and it's been over a week since I made the order. They haven't even processed the order yet (not the first time this has happened to me).
It seems obvious to me that Bezos took this one public so early to garner public support so that the FAA can't just sit on it forever. All of Amazon's other initiatives didn't need some federal regulator to OK it before they could start selling it.
I think this is an effective solution to getting a notoriously slow agency to move on an item. No one wants to be seen as stopping innovation, not even the FAA.
I would be surprised. Amazon has a history of developing tech for its own purposes, and then selling the tech. Their SOA architecture is now the backbone for one of the largest cloud services platform on the internet.
They might be the go to supplier for commercial drones in the not to distant future, so when they work with the FAA to get them approved (which i'm sure they're doing), i'd bet they are keeping alternative applications very closely in mind.
Rules for fully autonomous commercial flight might not (and should not) changed the rules for hobbyist, noncommercial flight.
Manually but remotely piloted aircraft (RC planes) are still a huge hobby and the FAA does not currently care how automated the flight is, only that it is noncommercial and that you can see the aircraft from the controls. It's doubtful that the FAA would amend these rules rather than create a separate category for unattended commercial flight.
This is a big part of it. Also, AMZ knows full well that they are a 900 pound gorilla. Going public with this increases the chances that the problem will be worked on by other companies as well. I see it as a similar move to what James Cameron did for 3D production in the years before he made Avatar. He was very smart about getting the industry to move in that direction so that when the time came, the tech was tested and solid.
UPS is a slow moving entity because of its enormous size and culture. Their delivery system was more or less handled manually until about 10 years ago. 15 years ago they were still using punch clocks for hourly workers. "Eventually" could mean 25-50 years from now.
Fedex and UPS suffer from the innovator's dilemma which will make it hard for them to build the best drone service with the right business model because it means they'll lose money, sunk investments and jobs relative to their old business model.
Anyway, this is probably a field rich with patents and amazon with their acquisition of kiva robotics and their attraction as an employer in this field with this PR, will grab quite a few patents and make it quite hard for other companies to compete.
If you've ever worked with or for either of these companies you would know how "old school" they are. They can barely keep an autosorter running, I wouldn't expect them to be able to run a fleet of unmanned drones. Also I'm sure the union at UPS would have some feelings about losing jobs to robots.
Source: I worked for FedEx Smartpost/Ground IT for a few years. It was absolutely terrible.
It seems disingenuous for this blog to suggest that MacKenzie Bezos's negative review of the Bezos book was part of the same orchestrated spin campaign as the drone story. That review didn't simply object to the tone or the message of the book, but also pointed out specific factual errors the book made, errors that were later tacitly acknowledged by the author.
I agree. I'm totally on board that there was some serious negotiation by Amazon (Prime) to get the piece on Amazon Prime Air to air the eve of "Cyber Monday" so you'd see as much Amazon Prime as possible.
I'd believe that it's intentionally out there to put quiet pressure on the FAA to lighten its regulations. I could even see it being run to distract from the Mother Jones-esque pieces about how terrible it is to be a seasonal employee at an Amazon Warehouse.
But this being a reaction to the Bezos book? That seems like a bit much.
But it's not just the book (which by the way is getting excellent reviews from people other than Jeff Bezos' wife). It's about the worker strike in Germany and the other negative news about Amazon. They are following the Google playbook of creating goodwill and good PR through these types of "innovations" that are destined to remain as vaporware or never really considered by the company to be a real business for them to get into. Companies like Google and Amazon need it terribly because their businesses on their own aren't going to create the type of goodwill that releasing a product like the iPhone and iPad does for Apple.
The reviews I'm talking about aren't the reviews on the Amazon book listing but reviews that address the investigative quality of the book and its sourcing. Critical reviews, not reviews by the average Joe.
I have a friend who worked down the hall from Bezos for five years after Amazon was founded. If there is anything in that book that states or implies that Bezos in an insane power hungry tyrant, then it's spot-on accurate. That creepy forced laugh of his you can experience in the 60 minutes interview should give it away.
He told me: Your reaction to the laugh is healthy. You should be scared of this guy. He can't get enough power. When I answered an online quiz "11 reasons your boss may be a psychopath" (or something like that) i gave him 10 1/2 out of 11.
> They are following the Google playbook of creating goodwill and good PR through these types of "innovations" that are destined to remain as vaporware or never really considered by the company to be a real business for them to get into.
I'm sorry, what Google "innovations" are you referring to here?
They're very much not vaporware. I was in the first wave, and they've given me 4 invites so far to give out. Meanwhile, they've been iterating rapidly on the software. Feels a lot like the gmail rollout did.
I've already seen what supporting Walmart has done to our country
Have you ever shopped there? Or do you just repeat what you read all the time? Wall mart typically only exists in rural poor areas, and I doubt a drive-by HN commenter has any sense of proportion on the real issues at play. Wall-mart migh mean more competition for mom & pop stores, but they also bring reliable and affordable access to otherwise unaffordable or trans-port prohibitive goods and services to people that don't have the wallet or the access to shop at whole foods or a boutique coffee shop that charges $5/cup. The reality is that even for successful stores such as these, the owners are absent, the employees make non-living wages (corrected for rent), and the extant competitors are out of business or severely harmed. Think of all the gentrification in the mission in the past 15 years...all of those (poor) people are more fucked by hipsters and their fancy shit than anyone ever was by Walmart.
You say "Wall mart typically only exists in rural poor areas", is this true?
Here in Canada, Walmart is pretty much in every city, regardless of income. The only place Walmarts don't exist is in areas where the population is too sparse, or rent is too high (e.g. downtown Toronto).
I find it hard to believe Walmart is only "in rural poor areas", unless their position is radically different in the States.
In the US, Walmarts do not seem to exist inside of cities (other large stores, like K-Marts or whatever seem to more often. This seems to be because Walmart is more conservative with form factor than other large store.) If you find a Walmart in a city, it will typically be in the outskirts or in the suburbs. That might seem like a lot, but contrast this coverage with with the sort of coverage they give small poor towns (seemingly every town over a handful of thousands people has one). A Walmart way out in the suburbs may as well be on the Moon for most city dwellers, particularly when you go down the income scale.
Living in Seattle, it is a half-hour drive to the nearest Walmart (there isn't one in Seattle, you have to go to Renton to find one.) Living in Philadelphia it was about the same. Back at my parents home, deep in central PA (aka, "Pennsyltuckey"), there were three Walmarts within 15 minutes. Medium/large sized rural towns like York PA can get two or more Walmarts. However even when a town starts to get as large as Harrisburg, access to Walmarts starts dropping.
> In the US, Walmarts do not seem to exist inside of cities
Walmarts don't exist in places where property values are high, as a means of keeping costs low.
> If Walmarts were common in cities, then urban food deserts would not be a thing in the US
Well, no; even if they had no effect on other existing businesses, regular Walmarts would have no effect on food deserts, as they don't carry fresh food. Super Walmarts do, but those are even bigger stores, and even less likely anywhere with significant real estate costs.
But, even if we consider big box food store could well -- through competitive pressure on already marginal smaller stores -- increase the average distance/time for urban residents to reach affordable, healthy food.
Super Walmarts could certainly be justified for the population a Walmart in a city would have. Honestly I forgot non-Super Walmarts were still a thing, I haven't seen on in ages.
Property value is definitely why Walmart (particularly Super Walmarts) doesn't move into cities. Their deal is large sprawling buildings with even larger sprawling parking lots, that isn't the sort of thing that you stick into a city. They don't seem keen on trying the "multilevel, compact, with a parking garage" or "underground complex" sort of form factor that other stores successfully employ inside of cities. I suspect this is because their margins are too tight for even that (and that form factor probably discourages buying in the sort of volume that their preferred store design encourages).
One way or the other, the Walmart:people ratio seems to be far lower in cities than in towns and suburbs. If Seattle had the same Walmart density as York PA, it would have over 30 Walmarts. Walmarts are practically the Starbucks of small-town America. (Briefly sampling a few towns in PA, it seems like for ever Walmart you can expect about two Starbucks. That's actually way fewer Starbucks than I expected, I suspect Google Maps isn't being honest here...)
In reality, it's about the same as you describe in Canada. They're not opening stores in dinky towns of 500 people, and they're not buying expensive premium real estate, but they're almost every where between those extremes.
They tried to put a Walmart downtown a few years ago ~2008, and they are currently trying to get approval for a Walmart in a different location that's would be on the edge of the 'official' boundaries of the downtown core.
It's definitely not true. Walmart just opened a store in Tyson's Corner, which is a suburb of DC and is surrounded by some of the richest areas in the country and, though not as urban as downtown DC, it's far from rural.
To add to this: I would hate to be a 3rd shift worker and have to rely on 9am-5pm mom and pop stores for all of my purchasing needs.
Hell, just considering regular office workers, where are you going to go to pick up new diapers in the middle of the night when your kid wakes you up screaming, following a logistics failure? Without Walmarts, the only realistic option for late-night shopping is the local 7-11.
> Wall mart typically only exists in rural poor areas
This is factually wrong. Walmart (note the spelling) follows suburbs and population centers. They may have been mostly rural one or two decades ago, but they are now most likely to be found near an intersection of freeways within 10 miles of a downtown. See http://bl.ocks.org/mbostock/4330486 for a map.
As for the rest of your screed... it's possible to be down on Walmart AND Whole Foods at the same time.
I'm not sure to what degree your apology is tongue-in-cheek, but I'll just leave this here. There is nothing wrong with the passive voice when used correctly; evasive sentences are equally a problem (or not a problem) whether written in the active or passive voice, and it's quite possible to be evasive or not with either.
Interesting. It seems passive voice can be used that way. I don't see any reason to complain unless the usage is strained, though (including, possibly, through the destruction of diversity in sentence structure - a crime that insistence on the active can also commit).
As to your last point, I am not proving witty enough to abide by your request in an amusing manner, so I will simply address your question: it is completely possible to avoid assigning blame with the active. A classic example would be, "They say...". Or compare the active "Someone made a mistake" with the passive "Mistakes were made by Steve."
> Wall mart [sic] typically only exists in rural poor areas
This is just absolutely, unequivocally not true, unless your definition of "rural" and "poor" includes urban centers of cities with tens of thousands of citizens with median incomes ranging from impoverished to affluent, especially in the south.
Walmart comes in and destroys the mom&pop operations who are less pricey than "whole foods or a boutique coffee shop that charge $5/cup" but can't compete with the cheap, shabby crap made by wage-slaves in third-world sweatshops that Walmart brings in.
Your post is very San Francisco-centric. I don't think you understand or have seen what it's like to live elsewhere. "Hipsters" aren't a "problem" anywhere else I've been, anyway.
One would think that you would reserve that sort of terminology to describe warlords with armies of child soldiers, or dictators who have their "democratic opponents" dragged out of their homes with black bags over their heads... you know, "ruthless tyrant" stuff...
Walmart essentially engages in the capitalist equivalent of both of those. Third World labor exploitation and near-extortion of their upstream suppliers. I cannot think of a more ruthless tyrant than Walmart.
Because if you shop locally, more of your money stays in your community, resulting in healthier local economies. Instead of your dollar spent at Walmart getting cut up and sent to Madison Avenue and Beijing, it goes to the local PR agency and a local cut-and-sew factory that you may not have even known existed.
Also, those better prices are due to the fact that Walmart's buying power means that they tell the supplier how much they will pay for the item, and leave it to the supplier to figure out how they can manufacture it and still make a profit. You can imagine the corners the supplier needs to cut to make that happen.
A technological civilization isn't even possible without massive specialization and worldwide cooperation. The first world standard of living wouldn't be possible if every country wasted it's resources trying to be self-sufficient (not that is what you were advocating for but it's the same principle, just to a smaller degree.)
Besides what do I care if my dollar goes to some stranger down the street, in another state, or in another country? They are all human beings I don't know, and I don't particularly care about the welfare of any more than the other.
>Also, those better prices are due to the fact that Walmart's buying power means that they tell the supplier how much they will pay for the item, and leave it to the supplier to figure out how they can manufacture it and still make a profit. You can imagine the corners the supplier needs to cut to make that happen.
A pressure to be more efficient and decrease prices is a good thing. They would try to cut corners anyways, and lower prices might arguably make up for it.
What cooperation, exactly? Malaysian children being forced (perhaps not in the physical sense, but certainly in the economic sense) to work 13 hours/day for less than 1 USD so that Target can sell Kathy Lee Gifford's branded sweaters for $15? Is that really the world you want to live in? There is no cooperation here, it is exploitation pure and simple.
> [W]hat do I care if my dollar goes to some stranger down the street
Well, first of all, he lives in your neighborhood. If he is economically secure, it is less likely he will break into your house and steal your TV.
> A pressure to be more efficient and decrease prices is a good thing. They would try to cut corners anyways, and lower prices might arguably make up for it.
Great! So we have shoddily constructed, shitty products that are not meant to last more than a few months anyway, but that we believe are cheaper because the marketing machine told us that we saved 47 cents on the purchase of $foo_widget?
Real society has real people in it, not robotic automata that always act perfectly economically rationally and conform to some sort of capitalist fantasy.
>What cooperation, exactly? Malaysian children being forced (perhaps not in the physical sense, but certainly in the economic sense) to work 13 hours/day for less than 1 USD so that Target can sell Kathy Lee Gifford's branded sweaters for $15? Is that really the world you want to live in? There is no cooperation here, it is exploitation pure and simple.
And you think the worker would be better off if you didn't buy it? No they'd just be unemployed or employed at a worse job. I'm all for spreading the wealth generated by the economy more fairly, but simply removing trade doesn't actually make anyone better off.
>Well, first of all, he lives in your neighborhood. If he is economically secure, it is less likely he will break into your house and steal your TV.
The money you lose by buying more expensive local products, plus the the probability that the small amount of your money that actually goes to a local worker will make him less likely to rob, times the probability that he would rob your house specifically...
Even with absurd estimates of how likely that is, it's still cheaper just to spend the money you save on insurance than what you would gain from slightly reducing the risk of robbery.
>Great! So we have shoddily constructed, shitty products that are not meant to last more than a few months anyway, but that we believe are cheaper because the marketing machine told us that we saved 47 cents on the purchase of $foo_widget?
What are you referring to that has been reduced in quality so much it actually costs more in the long run (especially things where this is done without the consumer's knowledge or choice to buy higher quality elsewhere.)? And can you actually attribute that to Walmart specifically, and it wouldn't have happened anyways? Or even just people making irrational purchasing decisions or just having a high time preference?
> And you think the worker would be better off if you didn't buy it? No they'd just be unemployed or employed at a worse job.
As a matter of fact, I do. The world is littered with suffering due to Western economic expansion (exploitation). For evidence, see the Banana Republics  generated in Latin America due to large fruit producers invading under the banner of "this is better for you." Globalization has an extraordinary human cost.
> The money you lose by buying more expensive local products, plus the the probability that the small amount of your money that actually goes to a local worker will make him less likely to rob, times the probability that he would rob your house specifically...
> Even with absurd estimates of how likely that is, it's still cheaper just to spend the money you save on insurance than what you would gain from slightly reducing the risk of robbery.
Did you even look at the artifact that I submitted? 73% of the money you spend locally stays in the community, whereas 43% stays in the community if you shop big-box. Furthermore, there is more than one "guy down the street." If everyone in your neighborhood is now suddenly suffering due to money leaving the community, what does that do to your probability model?
> What are you referring to that has been reduced in quality so much it actually costs more in the long run (especially things where this is done without the consumer's knowledge or choice to buy higher quality elsewhere.)? And can you actually attribute that to Walmart specifically, and it wouldn't have happened anyways? Or even just people making irrational purchasing decisions or just having a high time preference?
Have you been to a Walmart/Kmart/Target lately? What product have you picked up there recently and thought, "Yeah, this should hold up for a while, thank goodness I saved $2.18 on it!"
Additionally, if you have a high time preference, you should definitely not shop at Walmart. Walmart is responding to competitive pressure by "implementing deep cuts in labor hours at the company’s US stores, setting in motion a "vicious circle" of understaffing, operational miscues, and lost sales that is diminishing the company’s long-term value." 
I don't know about you, but wandering around a 100k square foot building with nobody to help in sight sounds like a serious waste of time to me.
Yes, particularly since the primary examples of penny-pinching seem to be buying furniture that is not fancy enough, and charging employees $40/month for parking garage (I'd love to have that! too bad I have to pay a good deal more for an open-air employer-owned lot. Well at least we get to exercise when we walk from there to office, and when we scrape the snow off in winter...)
People say that there's usually about a 10 year lag before tech from the military enters civilian use. Since drones showed up roughly 2003, it stands to reason that 2013 is when we should first starting seeing the tech become civilian viable. In fact that seems to be true, there's a whole lot of DIY material out there, and that's from people who don't have real world experience. I wouldn't be surprised if as military contracts wind down the large amount of people who just developed a new set of expertise may try to break out into the private sector. The only thing stopping the tech seems to be the FAA. Obviously its not something to take lightly, there are real safety concerns here... but its not completely science fiction.
Why do we accept that modern warfare can be fought almost entirely with drones (libya?) but when it comes to civilian applications it's a fairy tail publicity stunt?
I think bezos wants to turn a profit, and lowering delivery costs, and giving faster service might only make his company that much more valuable. I don't doubt for a second that this is a genuine effort.
Yeah... that's what my post said, but there's obviously some common ground between them, and my speculation is that reduced military funding might encourage people who have that expertise to branch out into the private sector.
The term 'drone' long precedes the Pentagonese moniker 'UAV'.
I think it originates with the de Havilland Queen Bee of the late 1930s, a radio-controlled conversion of the Tiger Moth trainer. With metalwork replaced by wooden components on account of their expected short lifespans, as they were used for gunnery training.
From that page, it seems like they didn't start sticking missiles on them until 2001, but stayed a bit hush about that for a while later. That's probably where the idea that drones in warfare is a more recent innovation comes from.
Surely the costs of flying a plane through a war zone with unreliable infrastructure with attached bombs is more than that of flying a plane with an ipad through suburbia with a reliable infrastructure.
You're confusing huge ridiculously expensive military drones, which are essentially small planes, with what Amazon is showing us, which are essentially small helicopters.
There's no way in the world these tiny drones can fly 10 miles each way, carry 5lbs of payload, deliver the package perfectly on the driveway/doorstep, and cost low enough to not be a financial nightmare. That's not even accounting for dealing with FAA, weather issues, safety issues.
There will need to be a few technological revolutions before it works. #1 - battery technology. Current batteries just can't handle long enough flights.
> There's no way in the world these tiny drones can fly 10 miles each way, carry 5lbs of payload
Today, there are prototypes that cost $2000, can carry well over 2kg (high definition cameras and such), and have a twenty miles range (that's 40 miles worth of "fuel"). As for perfect delivery… until you can miniaturize self-driving car technology, you can always have a human pilot manually landing the thing and take off. 30 seconds of human work for a small delivery, that's not too bad.
Can't. I met the guy in person while travelling by train. He had the drone in question in his suitcase. He did tell me however he was involved with this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvRTALJp8DM (Or another such effort —I met him in France.)
Random guy? Foolish mortal, you have no idea how much information he gave me. We talked for well over 2 hours. I know for a fact he has a solid technical background, and a weird twisted antenna sticking out the suitcase (about which I asked). I also fly radio controlled planes for a hobby, so I do have an idea how much these things cost, and the figures he gave me sounded reasonable.
On the other hand, to you, I am such a random guy. So don't trust me. I may not be as knowledgeable as I say, I may have misreported some key facts, I may even be lying to your face (I swear I don't, but you will never know). On the other hand…
…Do not ever presume to know how much I should know from a couple short comments. It's just not enough to tell you what I know, let alone how I think I know it.
I may not have sufficiently thought this through, but what about having them take off from and return to mobile flatbed trucks? Use them for last-mile delivery rather than all the way from the warehouse.
It wouldn't have to be while the vehicle was in motion on public roads. Think mobile warehouse: Pull into a parking area, launch the drones, collect the drones, reload. I dunno how many dozens of packages you could deliver within a mile radius or so, but it would be a lot more than the driver could drop off on his own, which is the point. And maybe someday you don't even need a driver.
If this idea is going to work at all (and that's a big if) these things were always going to have to fly over roads and land in driveways.
The problem with gas and this style of aircraft is that they would need to be hybrids, or else you would have a lot of weight dedicated to very complex transmissions.
I think an all-electric fixed wing/helicopter hybridization would make more sense. VTOL is probably only strictly required at the consumer end, on the Amazon side they could do CTOL and cruise on the same wings.
>The problem with gas and this style of aircraft is that they would need to be hybrids, or else you would have a lot of weight dedicated to very complex transmissions.
I believe that on airplanes they often solve the problem of internal combustion engines being much more efficient in a narrow RPM band (with the constraint that transmissions tend to be heavy) by using a constant speed propeller that spins at the optimal speed of the engine, and adjusts the blade pitch to adjust the speed of the vehicle.
I don't know if it would work on a VTOL type vehicle or not, but we've been using internal combustion engines for a while, and have reasonable work-arounds for many of their shortcomings.
Almost all helicopters have constant speed rotors and use the pitch of the blades to control all but 1 degree of freedom (the last is the pitch of the tail rotor blades, which directly controls the yaw in upright flight).
Yeah... but is scaling down the 'single big rotor' mechanisms used by real helicopters that difficult? would it be more expensive than developing a lightweight electric battery that could give you the same range?
I don't know the answers to those questions; I'm just saying, if range is the problem there are solutions that don't involve breakthroughs in battery technology.
> Yeah... but is scaling down the 'single big rotor' mechanisms used by real helicopters that difficult?
TS;WM (Too Short, Want More): The top-and-tail rotor design relies on varying pitch on the individual blades of the top rotor at different points in their rotation (rather than varying speed on separate rotors) for translation, varying pitch (the baseline/average pitch of all blades throughout rotation) of the main rotor for lift, and pitch of the tail rotor for rotation.
Quad/octorotor designs get all of that by just vary rotor speed without the additional machinery needed to vary blade pitch, which makes the vastly easier to build at small scale.
Yes, you mention 'safety issues'. Can you imagine the liability insurance you'd need to have in order to run a business where you have autonomous flying robots with packages suspended from them flying around? Holy crap. There are so many possible points of failure.
Call me a Luddite but I will be perfectly happy to never see this become a reality.
Sorry, but who are you? Who are you to stand up and call Amazon's idea unviable?
Why is their idea unviable? Because they have no proof?
Well you certainly proved how unviable the idea is with your lack of proof.
Quite frankly, when it comes to Bezos vs "ye", I have to say that the billionaire owner of one of the most successful stores in our world is SLIGHTLY more credible than "ye", random commenter who has no domain experience and no evidence for literally a single word they said.
I mean honestly, in a conversation about credibility and evidence, you thought providing neither makes for a good argument?
What an absolutely vacuous response. We can't possibly question the almighty Bezos once he issues a plan from on high?
Give me a break. There are a lot of technical issues to drones that should be evident to most people, no matter "who they are". I'm at a loss to understand why you think they shouldn't be able to voice that.
Why is their idea unviable? Because they have no proof?
WTF is this? I'd love to see these things flying in SF bay (windspeed:25 knts) or SoCal during the Santa Anas (30kts sustained). That doesn't mean its likely to happen with a quick and dirty solution, at least on the tech side. But who knows, maybe on the people-org side you can have a real-time delivery window that just side-steps the problem. But the appeal to "authority" here is just BS and gets in the way of a real discussion. Synchophants vs Naysayers is not a debate.
This is a very obvious PR move to get more clicks on a major shopping week and squelch a developing news story about Amazon's labor practices in the UK.
Amazon may well deliver books to me with a mini-helicopter in 2018. But they absolutely will sell more stuff due to the Prime Air attention, and will slow down the momentum on negative press that might send some holiday shoppers elsewhere. I find the idea that a billionaire owner of THE premier ecommerce business would come up with such a plan very credible.
This piece is right on. Amazon package drones are total vaporware at this point; the only reason to announce them is to improve the competitive positioning of Amazon in the press.
This is no different than the "slate" announcement by Microsoft and HP at CES 2010, which was widely panned and never produced any actual products for sale. But for a short time, it put MS in all the news stories about the iPad.
You can call it vaporware, but someone is going to utilize this technology. Companies in the other countries already are.
The technology is so new, and has yet to get to it's pinnacle. Bezos properly address the element that is missing, "redundancy". Whether you like it or not, these things will be flying above your head within 3 years. Whether Amazon is the one to do it? You think it's going to be UPS, FedEx, or USPS? My money is on Amazon.
In all of the criticism, I haven't seen anything remarking on the energy cost for this. I can hear a strawman in the audience saying "But drones are tiny/electric/cheap!" Not at these scales. Consider the (lack of) efficiency of quadcopters, the weights and distances involved, and the total sales volume for this service in even a small test market. I'd buy that flight itself is a viable option over wheeled vehicles when you consider more direct transit, reduction in delays due to traffic, and the reduction in weight of the delivery vehicle, but I'd imagine this advantage would only exist for fixed-wing delivery vehicles, not quad/hex/octo-copters.
$20 says that if this ever happens in the real world, the delivery vehicles are mechanically very different from what's shown in the promo video.
What I wonder is why nobody is pointing out that delivering less than 2kg in 30 min in a radius of 10 km can be done freely on a cheap pizza using plain old human labour.
I fail to imagine at what stage Amazon drone become cheaper considering the reliability of drone and the complexity of navigating a dense urban environment (I assume it is to be used there) Also, if it can be done cheaply enough, takeaways will eventually use the same system. I wonder how that will scale ...
While the pizza delivery will be cheap now but given time for the technology to mature and then the scale of the operation will make drone technology more cheaper. Obviously it will take a quite a time before it adds to profit line. As usual Amazon will keep absorbing the losses for that time and it is well equipped to that, if amazon history tells us anything.
Actually, the real cost comes from batteries. They're only good for a finite number of cycles, and under the high loads they'll experience in this sort of application, I would put that number at around 250-750 flights. So if you're spending $30-$50 a battery, that adds up pretty quickly. Electricity is really cheap in comparison.
I don't know if fixed-wings would help much with a box hanging beneath the drone. But i agree the final version will be a lot more aerodynamic and probably have a horizontal and vertical flight mode. Amazon does stuff for long term profitability. They will do it if they know that it will eventually become cost effective with time and scale. Plus they will rationalize not having any margins (or even negative margins) by increased customer happiness and loyalty.
The energy cost would have to be less than shipping by traditional means, which requires much more human involvement, additional sorting, travel, and stops. If you've ever tracked a package this would be pretty obvious.
Well that didn't take long :-) Perhaps Bezos is taking his cues from Google who trots out their self driving car when ever they want to boost their image with the public. It is interesting to watch from the perspective of companies balancing the 'reality' that they are doing everything they can to maximize their influencer, revenue, Etc. And still keep a friendly face on it. There was a time that the only information the public got about a company was their advertisements.
I subscribe to the notion that this particular stunt was both, technology investigation and PR piece. It sets Amazon apart from Walmart as "new technology" which carries a bit of cachet with the buying public, and there are some very real and interesting questions that can be informed by building a prototype system (which refers back to our discussion a while ago about actually doing something to figure out how hard it is really) and since it is so far out all it does is cause worry on the part of competitors.
Seems like a reasonable strategy to me.
 A blog post arguing some technology demo is a PR stunt
Who cares? It sparks the public imagination and gets people excited for the future. It's the kind of thing that can get a child interested in robotics or can give entrepreneurs a new level of insight into where commerce is headed. It sets a bar for ambition. Also, how often is it that we're dazzled with TED talks showcasing university research projects that promise the world and never make it to market? Is the point, ultimately, to make it to market, or to submit something bold to the consciousness?
Secondly, how will it work out for Amazon, in its coveted "long-run," if it erodes public trust by showing something it doesn't really think will ship? I think showing it in public gives them an onus to execute. As others have mentioned, it also creates an onus for the FAA to take this challenge seriously and to accelerate its thinking about this new direction.
Indeed - I wish more companies were goaded into doing interesting, exciting things in reaction to scathing biographies. Quick, someone write a scathing biography of Elon Musk - we'll have people on Mars in 3 years!
While I agree the 60 minutes segment seemed like a commercial, I don't understand why one would waste time attacking this innovation (not the helicopters, but the logistics behind it). A more meaningful discussion would be what the actual objections of the FAA are, what the repercussions of drones in the air are, etc.
I'm not sure the target audience for 60 minutes is that similar to the audience that would care about drone delivery or Cyber Monday so much. Suggesting that Amazon may have intentionally wanted the story aired the day before Cyber Monday seems like a bit of a stretch. Also, the fact that Amazon wants to do drone delivery in the future has been discussed previously, and they still say it's a few years out, so this isn't much of a story to begin with.
It's the other way around, really. News organisations want to be relevant, so will all have been looking around for Cyber Monday stories. This "narrative shift" is just a way for Amazon to make sure the stories that ran prior to and during Cyber Monday were not about working conditions in its warehouses, its international tax arrangements, or the death of independent retailers.
An organisation can very effectively dictate the precise timing of a story's running using tools such as an embargo (which determines the opening of the publishing window) and pre-arranged release of the story to other media (which tells an outlet with an exclusive that they should be publishing before this time). So a conversation along the lines of "We've got this great story, would you treat it properly if we gave it to you on 1 December, ahead of when it hits the wires at 8am on 2 December?" does the trick nicely.
"I'm not sure the target audience for 60 minutes is that similar to the audience that would care about drone delivery or Cyber Monday so much."
The 60 Minutes audience is absolutely part of the Amazon customer base - if not currently, they're in the crosshairs. Amazon explained in the segment that part of their mission is to sell everything - to everyone. And they also got their company name on the front page of every major news site. I expect they were part of most morning "news" shows, and will be mentioned in many evening news broadcasts tonight. Whether people watched 60 minutes or not - it's likely that a huge percentage of potential American shoppers saw the Amazon name mentioned someplace because of that story.
Seems like a long stretch. Who cares if the CEO is a nice guy? Steve Jobs is known as a terrible boss, but no one cares. The only thing matters to the mass consumers and the company's customers is the products the company produces.
Sadly, yes. Further, people dont really care where or how products are made. We get all this negative PR about how appalling working conditions are where many top selling brands are made, but there is no noticeable dent in sales as a result. If shoppers cared, they would shop differently.
However, its a lot to do with the egos of these CEOs, and what not. You and I may not care how nice or horrible these people may or may not be, but the people getting the negativity do. They dont like the idea that the public think they are not very nice, or what ever.
So, I'd suggest its possible its more about individual ego, than sales. Sales is a convenient excuse.
>You line up Charlie Rose to do one of his famous softball-tossing puff pieces..
You can't claim that Amazon destroyed the credibility of CBS and at the same time claim that one of their top anchors regularly gives "soft-ball" interviews. Well, to be honest you can, but you'll sound like an idiot.
I haven't seen anyone mention another key PR benefit of announcing this early: to take the wind out of Google announcing delivery via self-driving car.
Google is probably more threatening to Amazon than any other company, and they have a clear interest in attacking physical good delivery in a manner that is deflationary relative to Amazon - almost certainly by using self-driving vehicles to provide local delivery to existing retailers, gaining access to the inventory databases in the process.
Google likes to do PR stunts to project an image of futuristic technological leadership. It looks like they have a competitor.
Amazon somehow got CBS and 60 Minutes to create a 14-minute free ad spot for Amazon on the eve of this huge shopping day.
This is a fairly one-sided assessment of the situation. CBS and 60 Minutes benefit as much from the piece airing on the eve of Black Monday as Amazon, arguably more so, since Amazon needs little advertisement for its services.
I watched the piece and frankly found it to be somewhat of a puff-piece as well (Amazon was given too much credit in my opinion for being customer-centric). However, 60 Minutes caters to a broader audience than most of us, so they aren't going to get into pricing theory or the merits of Amazon S3. They describe the company to people as if it is the first time they've ever gotten a glimpse inside the website, because many people know little about it or its history.
60 Minutes almost always times its pieces to coincide with related events, and I think it makes the stories more interesting because of it.
Edit: If the goal of the piece was in fact to conjure up free positive publicity for Amazon I have to believe it worked. Last night my FB news feed was a flurry with people posting their love of Amazon and how they were now going to be loyal customers because "Amazon puts the customer first."
What surprises me is the naivety of most people who seem to think that 60 minutes and the like follow their nose for stories instead of having complicated marketing and PR deals behind them. There is no way that 15 minutes of sunday night prime-time TV is just given away to a puff-piece because the shows editors thought it might make a good story.
Next thing people will be shocked that Oprah is paid to endorse products.
"The Tacocopter of [Something]" is one of my favorite answers to the "The something of something" startup idea game. "The Tacocopter of Twitter" I think has been my best so far; some sort of telegraph service that delivers your printed telegraph message with a quadcopter instead of a courier.
The CBS interview was primarily focused on Amazon's technology. It was only fitting that they show off something they are still tinkering with that shows what the future might be. The drones are easily possible - the technology already exists. If Amazon doesn't do it, lots of other private companies will.
But I am a little shocked that this cool little announcement has brought Amazon's critics out of the woodwork. IMO, if you try to ride the coattails of other things getting press just to get your very negative views out, you are just as bad as the entity you are criticizing. Congratulations, a few more people read your negative opinion of Amazon and its founder than would have had you not tied it into the drone story. Nearly all of them will still be shopping on Amazon this Christmas.
I don't really see it as about criticism of Amazon--though there was that tone in Lyons' piece. Amazon has a PR department and they did their job remarkably well in this case in that they succeeded in landing essentially a puff piece about future technological concepts related to fast parcel delivery with a supposedly serious journalistic institution the day before the busiest online shopping day of the year.
Personal opinion, but this article should be on someone's personal blog, not promoted through Hubspot. It seems after a quick Google search, Dan Lyons has stirred up quite a bit of controversy in the past, and it's probably something I would avoid getting into from a company POV.
I think people keep forgetting that Bezos has a longer planning horizon than most people. "... won't realistically arrive in the real world for another four or five years, which in realspeak means they're a decade or more away." Sure, Amazon used this as an opportunity for an image boost, sales boost ... but what else does this move also do?
When I lived in a big apartment building, sometimes my Amazon packages would go missing. The thief got an EVO 4G screen protector, a micro USB cable, and some hand towels.
Most Amazon orders aren't expensive things. Going to jail for a few years for hijacking an aircraft just isn't worth it, when you can just wait for the package to be delivered and steal it from someone's doorstep. Even then, probably not worth it.
I think the real reason people are frustrated with Amazon's announcement is because Amazon is getting/will get the credit for the drone delivery idea despite the fact that numerous hackers/engineers/companies have been working on (and presenting) this idea for years.
I predicted this about a week ago in some thread complaining about Amazon delivery when I said I lived in Texas and my packages were being delivered by Blue Origin, which worked fine, but one time left a big hole where my car once was.
This is almost exactly how I felt when I saw that Google was "taking on death".
Some of these SV companies are better than others at this kind of thing. Amazon, Google, and Apple have this ability to make otherwise skeptical journalists just turn their brains off...Google's "death stunt" was the cover of Newsweek for god's sake.