Are Amazon’s ambitions flying too high for comfort?
As eBay announced the end of its same day delivery trial, Amazon was grabbing headlines about its vision of controlled airspace for commercial drones, potentially unlocking its planned 30-minute-or-less U.S. delivery initiative. Stymied by FAA regulations, which are currently grounding Amazon’s Prime Air service, the company’s proposal would permit high-speed commercial drone operation at altitudes of 200-400 feet.
The idea would have drones working under standardized communication protocols so that in an emergency or important situation a drone would be addressable and controllable via centralized cloud communications. On its face, the proposal seems reasonable, but the concept of a Jetson-like layer of unmanned machines crisscrossing the skies over cities and towns raises many, many issues.
The announcement came just two days after Kentuckian William Meredith shot down a private drone over his backyard. Although unrelated to airborne delivery, Mr. Meredith had concerns about the hovering nature of the device and took what he saw as protective action. Online reactions to the incident reflect the polarizing privacy/airspace rights debate around drones.
If Amazon’s plan or a similar one is enacted by the FAA, it could unleash a plethora of buzzing machines upon America. In cities, where there is already an overload of noise and visual clutter, the drones will add yet another compounding element. In suburban and rural areas where people enjoy a quieter lifestyle and are better able to appreciate open spaces and blue skies, drones could interrupt the tranquility, especially if they are passing over private property.
The flying machines in question would not carry a life preserver to a drowning person, a defibrillator to a cardiac victim or providing visual feedback for a police or fire situation. They would deliver deodorant or a book to a customer to improve the retailer’s profits and market share and to satisfy impatient consumers bent on convenience.
With nearly daily reports of serious security breaches, what assurance can Amazon or any drone operator provide to government, law enforcement and, most importantly, citizens that the devices will never be hijacked and used for ill will? Will open airspace become the next congested highway? What is an acceptable accident/injury ratio? How important is it to give away yet another public resource to corporate profiteering?
Given the range of delivery/pick-up options already available to merchants, are the risks really worth what is probably only an incremental service gain?
- Amazon Prime Air
- Amazon Lays Out Its Vision for a Sky Thronging with Delivery Drones – MIT Technology Review
- Determining Safe Access with a Best-Equipped, Best-Served Model for Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems – AUVSI
- Revising the Airspace Model for the Safe Integration of Unmanned Aircraft Systems – AUVSI
- Amazon Proposes Drone Highway As It Readies For Flying Package Delivery – Forbes
Where do you stand on the use of drones as retail delivery vehicles? Do you share the security and privacy concerns expressed about the use of drones?