If the story on Amazon drones hadn’t aired on TV’s deadpan-serious 60 Minutes, it would have been easy to assume Sunday’s announcement from Amazon.com (AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos was something cooked up by spoof site The Onion, or perhaps one of Google’s (GOOG) now-predictable April Fools’ Day news releases.
In a development that was once something only hypothesized in the cartoon/fantasy world of The Jetsons, Bezos says the company is developing airborne Amazon drones to deliver many of the online-retailer’s goods to its paying customers.
That’s right. Amazon feels it’s only a matter of time — and not even much of it — before card-table-sized octocopters will be dropping off purchases right at your doorstep. Once the delivery is made, the drone will fly back to its distribution center to pick up and deliver the next payload.
Amazon drones are a completely ridiculous and unworkable idea, of course, and will (no pun intended) never get off the ground anytime in our lifetimes.
Still, it’s fun to see someone of Jeff Bezos’ ilk have as much faith as he has that science fiction is becoming scientific fact.
The response to the announcement has been what you might expect; half of the public loves the premise, while the other half is proverbially rolling their eyes. What’s interesting is that even the folks who love the idea don’t actually seem to think it’s going to be become a reality anytime soon … despite Bezos’ optimism.
Thing is, their intuition might be spot-on.
Here are the three biggest reasons Amazon drones are going to be grounded before ever taking flight.
#1: The coverage areas for Amazon drones are inherently full of airborne hazards.
It wasn’t one of the underscored details of the 60 Minutes interview, but the proposed battery-operated drone that Amazon is working on only has an operating range of about 10 miles from its takeoff point; the service will only be available in fairly metropolitan areas near an Amazon hub.
It’s not really a customer service problem, as nobody expects the company to lose money just to offer the delivery option in rural areas. Besides, rollouts of all sorts tend to begin in metropolitan areas and work their way outward.
No, the problem with populous areas — where the service makes fiscal sense — is that these areas can be loaded with tall buildings, power lines, cranes, birds and a million other things that could (literally) get in the way. And that’s partially why …
#2: Any in-flight failure will turn into a disaster.
While it would be inaccurate to say in-flight failures are common for these electric octocopters, it wouldn’t be inaccurate to say failures do happen from time to time. And, unlike failures in airplanes where the plane at least has a shot at being glided to safety, a failure on a couple (or more) of the delivery drones’ eight rotors means a five-pound package — in addition to the weight of the drone itself — becomes a rock falling out of the sky.
What happens when — not if — it lands in the middle of a busy road, or worse, lands on a moving car?