Amazon’s First Drone Delivery Trial

Amazon is once again hailing drone delivery as a breakthrough in e-commerce service, launching a trial in the UK whereby a customer purchased an item via Amazon Prime Air and had it delivered in 13 minutes.

Amazon Prime Air promises “safe delivery” of items to consumers in under 30 minutes. The UK trial is currently available to an enormous audience of two customers. Wow! Shares in Amazon are bound to go through the roof.

The feel-good video shows the Amazon Prime Air facility located at what looks to be a regional airport. The voiceover describes the fulfilment process  order purchased, items packed by hand, box inserted into electric drone which then rolls down a track to its take off position.

Let’s say that entire process from order through packing to drone take-off and cruise speed achieved takes a brisk three minutes. That allows 10 minutes for drone travel to the customer’s residence (which better have a bloody big yard, BTW) at a top-of-the-scale electric drone speed of 80kph. That’s top speed for a drone not hauling a 2kg package by the way, but let’s give the Amazon drone a turbo boost credit for the full 80kph.

Ten minutes travel at 80kph covers 13 kilometres. The resident here lives only a 10-minute drive from the distribution centre. Anyone else receiving drone deliveries within 30 minutes at current drone speeds would be within a 30 kilometre radius of the Prime Air centre. Then there is the return trip required, assuming that the resident hasn’t swiped the drone or it has not been damaged in flight. The video shows the drone zeroing in on a supplied landing pad at the Prime Air customer’s home, which I assume transmits a signal to guide the drone’s GPS. That piece alone raises a few questions.

How much will each of these landing pads cost Amazon or the customer?

What space is required to use the landing pad? (In the video, it would appear a small farm in the flat English countryside is a minimum requirement.)

What happens if the batteries in the landing pad fail or the dog sits on it – do we have drones flying around aimlessly with no destination?

When the trial moves from two customers to two million, what will all of these signal transmissions from Amazon landing pads do to aviation?

I don’t want to be a skeptic (okay, that’s not true) but I remain a long way from being convinced that drone delivery will become commercially viable. I’m more inclined to believe driverless cars and trucks will be more viable commercially in future, but whether drones take off or not (boom, boom!) I laud Jeff Bezos for his enthusiasm in relentlessly driving transformational change in e-commerce.

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