Amazon’s new drone tech shows little actual promise

This past Thanksgiving weekend has seen the aforementioned holiday, the beginning of Hanukkah, Black Friday, and also Cyber Monday. This merging of holidays and consumer shopping days marks the beginning of our holiday shopping season, and one company that’s looking to impress the world this season is Amazon.

For those who caught the video online or perhaps on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” Amazon is looking to take the idea of drones—often iconic as tools for military and police surveillance—and transforming them in octo-copter gift droppers for delivery of Amazon goods in less than 30 minutes. (“Amazon unveils futuristic plan: Delivery by drone” 11.30.13) The idea is ambitious, cool, but also unsustainable and likely impossible—though for our own good.

In all honesty, the idea of getting the millions of items available on Amazon.com faster than the average Domino’s delivery order is quite tempting. Let’s face it, many of us have had those late-night hunts on Amazon searching for the little things we want (but probably shouldn’t get) and the idea of getting it in a matter of minutes is too tempting to turn down. Amazon isn’t just about books anymore, and being able to get clothing, food, toys, games, and myriad other products by personal courier is just awesome.

However, despite how cool and great it is, in reality Prime Air is not an effective way to deliver products—and I’m really thankful it is too. Amazon can’t do Prime Air since it just doesn’t make any sense. Maybe I can’t see far ahead into the future and understand the logistics of air-to-home delivery, but what we’re dealing with here is a 10 mile radius for any under five pounds. Even if, as Amazon states on “60 Minutes,” the majority of packages are under five pounds, the majority would not fit in the tiny shock-proof box that is attached to each Prime Air device. I’m also not too sure the handful of fulfillment centers that Amazon has in the U.S. would allow Amazon to effectively manage the 10 mile limit of Prime Air without building one outside every major town and city. This isn’t even beginning to touch the safety, security, or insurance issues of having octo-copters worth thousands of dollars carrying goods either, and really there’s hardly any chance we’ll see it widespread or even in any real markets over the next few years.

So it can’t be done, and the reason why you should be happy, rather than sad, has to do with the ongoing craze about drones. Sure, Amazon’s octo-copter has a limited range of just 10 miles, and won’t even be in the field by no earlier than 2015, but there is already such a pressing debate about the usage of drones and surveillance devices that anything by any firm—whether corporate or government—that utilizes drone technology should be at the least taken with skepticism.

Sure, Amazon’s intentions, at best, could be to deliver goods to the masses, but we have to be cautious about how much we want to see drones or octo-copters all over the skies. Google itself has gotten a lot of flak when its Google Maps cars were caught sniffing WI-Fi data while taking images of our streets and homes. (Wired, “Google’s WI-Fi Sniffing Might Break Wiretap Law, Appeals Court Rules” 09.10.13) If we let Amazon start flying octo-copters all over, it will certainly be a green light for other businesses, and then local governments to do the same. At the very least you should not be completely okay with that concept.

I’m not a libertarian, and I personally believe in a government that ought to look out for human rights and security. That said, I also believe that we should be very aware of our civil liberties and our entitlement to some amount of privacy. I’m not saying Amazon, Google or any other tech company has bad intentions when they do crazy stuff like this, but we as a society ought to remain cautious. Amazon’s idea is interesting, and I hope they continue to be a creative and innovative company—after all that’s what being a good company is really all about. That said, I’m not quite ready for Prime Air, and i don’t think you should be either. Perhaps if we see more clear potential for legal regulation about these tools it could become possible, but in the present I sincerely hope this idea doesn’t get off the ground.

 

—Joshua Sherman ’16 is an English major.

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