Amazon Preps For Retail Drone Wars

Discussion
Dec 02, 2013
George Anderson

It was pretty big news when Amazon.com announced it would begin using the United States Postal Service to make deliveries to customers in select markets on Sundays. Now comes a CBS broadcast of "60 Minutes" during which Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos announces the company’s future plan to use drones — known as octocopters — to fly ordered goods to customers.

Mr. Bezos said the octocopters would be able to deliver packages up to five pounds to customers within a 10-mile radius from its growing number of fulfillment centers within a 30-minute timeframe.

Unlike military craft that are remotely piloted, Mr. Bezos said octocopters would be autonomous and deliver goods to locations based on GPS coordinates.

"The hard part here is putting in all the redundancy, all the reliability, all the systems you need to say, ‘Look, this thing can’t land on somebody’s head while they’re walking around their neighborhood," said Mr. Bezos.

As to when Amazon will begin making deliveries by octocopter, Mr. Bezos said that wouldn’t happen any earlier than 2015. It will take at least that long for the Federal Aviation Administration to develop rules incorporating drones into the nation’s air traffic.

According to Bloomberg News, drones are being tested as delivery systems in both Australia and China. Zookal, an Australian textbook company, has been testing drones to deliver materials to students.

Do you share Jeff Bezos’ view that flying drones will become a practical way to make deliveries in the future? How long do you think it will be before drones are making large numbers of deliveries?

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39 Comments on "Amazon Preps For Retail Drone Wars"


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Dick Seesel
Guest
6 years 10 months ago

If drones become a feasible, safe and cost-efficient way to deliver same-day goods to consumers, leave it to Amazon to figure it out. The demonstration on 60 Minutes involved a small package, so it’s hard to know how the technology works for bulkier or heavier packages…but I’m sure Amazon is working on it.

It’s exciting to see this company continuing to reinvent the e-commerce experience, which has been part of its heritage ever since it began as a book-ordering site.

Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
6 years 10 months ago

Bezos was pretty clear that there would be a 10-mile/5 lb. limit to this form of delivery and that it might be centered around urban areas. I’m not sure urban is capable of this. I’m thinking of a warehouse in Manhattan – how do you deliver to apartment buildings? That said, intriguing idea in the absence of financial implications.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Guest
6 years 10 months ago

While I question the flying drones’ success, the interview with Jeff Bezos was very illustrative. Of all of his insightful comments, wittily given, perhaps the one that resonated most with me was tenure of any organization. His point, that I happen to agree with, is that there will be a new disruption that will eventually displace Amazon. When the new paradigm arrives, everyone goes back to zero.

It reminds me of the quote of the late Malcolm Forbes, “The greatest obstacle to business is success.” Lessons learned to date from Amazon: focus on customer intimacy and use technology to never stop innovating.

Max Goldberg
Guest
6 years 10 months ago

Whether it’s using the postal service to make deliveries on Sunday or drones, Amazon and other e-commerce retailers are looking for ways to meet consumer demand for faster delivery. Drones may be practical in some geographic areas and impractical in others, just as they cannot handle deliveries of over 5 pounds. Whether you agree with Bezos’s vision of the future, you have to admire his passion and tenacity.

Ken Lonyai
Guest
6 years 10 months ago

Cool tech certainly interests me, but I hope the FAA never lets this happen. My guess is Mr. Bezos is testing the waters with his plan, both with public and governmental reaction.

From a business perspective, drones could mean a sea change for local and same day delivery, but for humans and other creatures, they would be very intrusive in an already crowded environment. Imagine relaxing in the park with your family, already concerned with ants invading your space from below and now drones obstructing your view from above.

I ask “What price for commerce?”

Ben Sprecher
Guest
Ben Sprecher
6 years 10 months ago

Traffic-free, on-demand, point-to-point delivery is a perfect use-case for drones. So, it’s unsurprising that Amazon was among the first to announce this type of a program.

Ultimately, though, I think that drone-based delivery could be even more beneficial to businesses that *don’t* have Amazon’s scale. If you are only doing a handful of deliveries a day, running trucks or dedicated drivers to your store becomes cost-prohibitive quickly. But without the cost of a driver, a drone pickup and delivery can be fast and cheap, provided the drones can service other businesses too.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
6 years 10 months ago

Jetsons here we come. It sure was an interesting interview and you have to give Jeff Bezos a ton of credit for creative thinking. The imagination of Bezos and Amazon seemingly knows no bounds. Amazon’s biggest problem remains profitability and I’m not sure this will help in that regard.

Mohamed Amer
Guest
Mohamed Amer
6 years 10 months ago
No matter what you think of Amazon, you have to admire their tenacious pursuit of innovation – it’s a real passion. Assuming the FAA hurdles are overcome and further technology refinements are made (both of these challenges should not be understated – can you imagine a sky full of drones from multiple retailers or delivery companies?!), then Amazon Prime Air can become a practical reality at a rate commensurate with the attractiveness of the delivery fee for that service. Purely from a consumer perspective, I find getting my order within 30 minutes to be a hugely disruptive capability that hits on convenience and immediate gratification of physical goods from the comfort of my home (wonder how it would work if I order from a hotel room while traveling on business or on vacation?). Although Amazon intends to launch in 2015 (per their announcement), I expect Prime Air will have a wider impact with other retailers and the “overnight” delivery business model within 2-3 years. But I am certain that many are already looking at how… Read more »
Debbie Hauss
Guest
6 years 10 months ago

It’s a very cool concept. I think a lot of consumers will want to try it out just because of the novelty. But long-term practicality remains a question for me. Of course, Bezos stated that it will be at least a few years until this can literally “take off.”

Cathy Hotka
Guest
6 years 10 months ago

Whether octo-copters take off or not (excuse the pun) the 60 Minutes piece showed the pervasive nature of innovation at Amazon. Many retailers are in the process of re-platforming their infrastructure and programs, but that alone won’t win the war against a competitor like Amazon. Every retailer is going to have to step up their game.

David Dorf
Guest
6 years 10 months ago

It’s an exciting idea that should be pursued further but as of now, I don’t see how it could work. But these things usually have a few pivots before the practical solution is discovered so we should keep an open mind.

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
Guest
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
6 years 10 months ago

Brilliant! Regardless whether or not this version of the idea works, at least Mr. Bezos and his team are pushing the envelope. We will see something like this by Christmas 2015 in small test markets.

Ben Ball
Guest
6 years 10 months ago

The overriding message of the interview to me was “Bezos gets that the business is DELIVERY – not just more convenient browsing, order entry and payment.”

Peter Charness
Guest
6 years 10 months ago

I wonder if hot take-out food is within the size and weight limit? Maybe he is on to something!

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
6 years 10 months ago

It seems like no one wants to bet against any Jeff Bezos project and neither do I.

His plan isn’t practical as of now, particularly in congested urban areas. Amazon loses money with abandon yet its stock continues to rise and Jeff has expand his “empire” into newspaper publishing in an influential area.

If these thoughts and those conveyed by others add up to one thing it is this: Develop a healthy disregard for the impossible.

Larry Negrich
Guest
6 years 10 months ago

I guess there would be an additional charge for drone delivery. It looks like effective PR to me. Gets the media talking about how Amazon continues to be the leader.

Bill Davis
Guest
6 years 10 months ago

I have to say, I am not seeing it. I personally don’t see drones as having a huge impact in fulfillment, but am not going to discount Jeff’s vision either, as he’s been right far more often than he’s been wrong.

Tony Orlando
Guest
6 years 10 months ago

Jeff Bezos is the Donald Trump of his time. This drone idea is total hype, but I could be wrong. Imagine how many of these drones will be stolen, shot down, or destroyed by idiots who have nothing better to do. It would be a modern version of stealing pizzas from a Domino’s truck.

However, Bezos continues to raise the bar with his ideas, and many online and B&M stores are trying to figure out how to compete with this huge company that is the darling of consumers and bloggers. Right now, Amazon has the ear of the public and will continue to stay relevant for a long time.

Chris Petersen, PhD.
Guest
6 years 10 months ago

Not going to happen by 2015.

I agree with David Dorf and Bill Davis on this one. Large scale deliveries in urban areas by drones is simply not feasible. Even if the drone technology is available by 2015, there would be a massive amount of regulations involved regarding the massive drone traffic required for large scale delivery.

Great PR move by Bezos to push the envelope of delivery and logistics … but this one is overreach in terms of practical execution.

Michael Twitty
Guest
Michael Twitty
6 years 10 months ago

Practical drone delivery? It may be a long way off…or it may never be. But image building today? You bet! Whether this is a practical solution or not, it seems to everybody that these guys at Amazon are serious about raising the bar.

Al McClain mentioned that Amazon’s real challenge is profitability. I can’t help wondering whether that iconoclastic Mr. Bezos has a plan that goes something like this: retail domination first, profitability next.

Karen S. Herman
Guest
6 years 10 months ago

I absolutely see drone delivery as a fulfillment strategy for Prime customers in urban areas where the 10 mile, 5 lb. plan works, and I like the fact that drones are more environmentally friendly than delivery trucks idling in the street while packages are hand delivered.