Forget about Government, Amazon Wants to Drone You!

Those who watched Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ recent “60 Minutes” interview saw where his true passion lies—in ever-improving customer experience via ever-faster deliveries. While Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the undisputed cloud market leader and might be the profit-maker for the company, it doesn't appear to be Bezos' focus.
A walk through one of the company's massive fulfillment centers revealed the deep extent to which algorithms determine the placement of products to optimize the use of the vast (and likely not cheap) physical space. This is only one of the competitive edges that the retailer has over its competition. The 2012 acquisition of Kiva Systems showed Amazon’s interest in using robotics to further improve fulfillment times and efficiency.
But in an example of what might be truth stranger than fiction, many CBS viewers sat awestruck as they learned about Amazon’s experiment to fulfill small orders (five pounds or lighter) using a fleet of autonomous aircrafts. The drone service, called Prime Air (see video), is expected to go live in a few years. Bezos hopes the drones will allow Amazon to deliver goods within 30 minutes.
This bold initiative is bound to face some regulatory challenges, as the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) might get in the way. FAA rules for drone flights in U.S. airspace are expected to be ready in 2015.
But hundreds of thousands of drones in the sky could cause havoc, whether or not they pose a real threat. There is also the question of how feasible the service could be in densely populated urban areas. For example, how would drone delivery work for addresses in high-rise buildings?
But if Amazon figures all this out on a large scale, it would give its same-day delivery efforts (exemplified by the AmazonFresh subsidiary for same-day delivery of groceries and fresh produce in the Seattle and Los Angeles metro areas) a boost. Online retail rivals such as Google and eBay have also been partnering with major retail chains to enable same-day deliveries (e.g., Google Shopping Express).
Amazon’s recent USPS Sunday-delivery deal further shows the company’s unrelenting interest in differentiated customer service and perfect deliveries. That service will first launch in the New York City and Los Angeles metro areas before eventually reaching “a large portion of the U.S. population” in 2014 including Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, and Phoenix and covering millions of items.
In a nutshell, ultrafast drone delivery is an amazing idea if the company can get through all of the regulations and other practical hurdles. Perhaps Amazon could use drones in the air together with self-moving vans on land powered by Google technologies?
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