I was reading this article on CNN.com this morning, which talks about Amazon having designed a drone that is capable of delivering packages from its warehouses (or, as Amazon calls them, fulfillment centers), by air, directly to your doorstep. It has a range of about 10 miles and can handle packages up to five pounds in weight, a weight limit that Amazon says 90% of its orders fit within.
I think this is a really cool idea, and while it won’t actually be put into use for at least another few years (they still have to find a way to clear them with the FAA, and make sure it can detect obstacles like trees and people), it has the ability to simplify the process of online shopping even further than Amazon already has. This also means that, except for the heavier items that the drone can’t physically transport, carriers like UPS, FedEx, and even the US Postal Service could be cut out of the equation completely. While this would obviously not be good for their business, especially the US Postal Service since mail delivery has also dropped given the rise of online communication in the last couple of decades, it had the potential to save customers a lot of money on shipping costs. It could also enable same day delivery (The CEO of Amazon was talking about half hour delivery times), whereas we currently need to wait at least a couple of days to get anything we order online, even trivial items like books, blank CDs, or headphones.
I also see this as more of a return to the traditional shopping experience where you drive to a store, pick out what you want, and bring it home that day. While a lot of brick-and-mortar retail businesses have gone under in the wake of online shopping (I’m still reeling after losing Borders, by the way), the one part most people probably haven’t liked about shopping online is waiting on delivery, especially those wonderful times (and we’ve all had this one) where UPS tries to deliver while you’re at work, and then you have to either wait until the next day to get it, or go to their shipping center and wait in line for an hour to pick it up yourself.
Now, one thing they made no mention of, but will definitely need to factor in, is security. Delivery drones are probably going to be pretty conspicuous zipping around the neighborhood and landing on peoples’ front porches, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility that criminals could start following them and stealing whatever merchandise they’re delivering, or even the drone itself. They’ll also need to consider ways people might try to hack the drone and reroute it by changing the delivery address in mid-flight, making it think it’s successfully delivered the package when it may have been rerouted to drop it in a location of a criminal’s choosing.
But those aren’t reasons not to do it, just things any smart business would need to do to protect themselves. I think it’s a very smart plan for Amazon to eliminate the inconveniences of third party shipping from their business model, and I applaud them for being so forward thinking.