Amazon drones: Risk vs convenience, which will win this war?

Published: December 11, 2013
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Amazon.com's new delivery system: Prime Air using drones. Photo: Reuters

Just when you thought you had seen and heard enough, the world comes up and punches your imagination into oblivion. You’ve heard about Amazon.com, and you’ve heard about drones. What you didn’t realise was that one day both these things would be used in the same sentence.

While that day isn’t completely upon us, in another five years, it most certainly will be. The world’s largest online retailer, Amazon, claims it is testing unmanned drones to deliver goods to customers.

Like all other new concepts, this too will be met with a fair amount of scepticism. And again, like other new concepts, this will stand the test of scepticism and develop into a very reasonable mode of delivery. The basic premise behind this concept is the speed of delivery, estimated to be 30 minutes into the order being placed.

We live in a fast paced environment and things around us function quicker than they have ever done before. Keeping that in mind, the 30 minutes delivery time fits into our fast paced lives perfectly. Of course, the environment groups will make their voices heard and it is only logical that they would need to be taken on board.

The natural habitat of birds, plus the greenery around a customer’s delivery point could be adversely impacted because of the drones. The logical solution here would be to carefully monitor the natural habitat around a customer’s delivery point and perhaps install some sensors in the drones which ensure that it does not disrupt the natural habitat. The minds at work in Amazon are considering various such options and it is fair to believe that they will work out a feasible solution.

Air traffic is an issue that will need to be sorted out as well and this is where the aviation authorities will come into the picture. We may have the gift of advancing technology, but that also brings with it certain risks. Even though the drones are highly unlikely to fly at elevations that raise the risk of it coming into contact with other modes of air traffic, the concerned regulatory bodies of the delivery areas need to be taken into consideration.

Whatever the case may be, the use of drones for commercial use are quoted to be in operation in the US by 2015 and in Europe by 2016.

This does remove the first obstacle for Amazon, but unlike military drones, Amazon will be using these drones much more frequently and in densely populated areas which raise the risk of injuries to people when it nears landing. Perhaps adding some human control to the drones from the Amazon offices could clear out this glitch.

The cost associated with this project is likely to be the biggest hurdle for Amazon.

Even though the relevant aviation and environmental approvals will be obtained somehow, the cost will be a cause of worry. With a delivery time of only 30 minutes, Amazon will have multiple drones reaching a host of locations every 30 minutes, which means that they will need to have a rather large set of drones ready at all times to meet the 30 minutes delivery time.

Purchasing and maintaining those drones will cost a significant amount as well and that cost could be transferred to the customers, which won’t be large enough to refrain from losing potential clients. The question here will be the quality of service and if Amazon manages to maintain its service pledge, it is unlikely that paying a little extra for such quick service will bother the serious buyer.

Another factor that will need to be kept in mind is the safety of the package.

The drone will deliver the package at the customer’s doorstep, but what if the customer isn’t available at the time? This raises the risk of theft. A solution could be to initiate a call service by Amazon where the package is not dropped unless the customer is there to receive it in person.

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x17vmrm_amazon-unveils-futuristic-plan-delivery-by-drone_news

When all is said and done, this initiative by the world’s largest online retailer will revolutionise the online delivery business. Save time, get your package, and then get back to your life. The world, in my opinion, just became much more convenient.

salman Zafar

Salman Zafar

The writer works in the Education Sector and tweets as @salmanzafar1985 (twitter.com/salmanzafar1985)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.