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Amazon Prime Air: an amazing but doomed 30-minute delivery option using drones

Editorial by Andrew Kameka on Monday December 02, 2013.

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Imagine if you could order your smartphone or tablet online and it would arrive in less than an hour. On CBS' 60 Minutes last night, Amazon unveiled something rather surprising: a self-flying quad-copter that it plans to use to deliver products as fast as 30-minutes. It looks innovative, incredible, and almost guaranteed to not happen at any point in the foreseeable future.

Amazon revealed that its delivery drones would be programmed with GPS coordinates and then sent to an address. The copters would not be guided by someone in a room with a remote controller. Instead, they would fly to the designated coordinates, drop the package, and then return to the fulfillment center in order to prepare for the next delivery. Bezos admitted that this is a program that would take years - 4 to 5 even by his "optimistic" standards - to get right, but he believes it will revolutionize the company.

I'm inclined to agree that it would be a huge boon to Amazon, but whether the company will be able to clear the hurdles to make that happen are questionable. Though Amazon would have to smooth out the logistics of getting the copter to be smart enough to avoid buildings and airplanes, the company would have a much tougher time dealing with the FAA and the government to make it feasible. And good luck delivering the package to a GPS coordinate without any errors - we all know mapping applications never make mistakes - or alert customers fast enough to go outside and receive the package before someone comes to steal it. Drone delivery might be okay for suburban areas, but it will be much tougher in densely populated cities and apartment buildings.

If Amazon Prime Air - and this is a giant "if" - can manage to get off the ground, Amazon would have the best shopping experience in the world. The company already beats local stores on prices and data available to help make customers make informed decisions, but its hang-up has been delivery times. For time-sensitive purchases, waiting even two days, a guaranteed deadline that Amazon Prime routinely fails to meet for every purchase I make, would be huge. Amazon would remove one of the last advantages that physical retail stores have over it, and make it possible to get your beloved product in less than an hour. Imagine if all those Cyber Monday purchases you made today were suddenly available today rather than Thursday or Friday?

The video is viewable at CBS News. Fast forward to the 11-minute mark to see Amazon Prime Air. You can also see more information about the story on 60minutesOvertime.

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About the author

Andrew Kameka
Andrew is based in Miami, Florida.

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