One of the segments on ‘60 Minutes’ last Sunday night was an interview with Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. The interview was pretty standard fare, until Bezos made an announcement to Charlie Rose that he had a new initiative to reveal. The new initiative is to
deliver certain packages to Amazon customers with drones — possibly reducing product shipping time to as little as 30 minutes.
For example, go ahead and click the BUY button for the new Kindle, then make a cup of tea for yourself and when you are done drinking your tea, go out your front door and pick up your new Kindle that was delivered to you by a drone sometime over the last thirty minutes. This scenario is an extremely disruptive concept to standard-fare delivery.
What type of product? The product(s) would have to be 5 lbs or less which currently represents 80%+ of Amazon’s deliveries. The customer’s delivery address would need to be within a 10 mile radius of an Amazon distribution center.
A drone? The delivery system Bezos described in his interview was an octocopter which uses a lithium polymer battery. One of the big benefits, in addition to expediency, is the green solution provided by the drones, therefore reducing the need for fossil-fuel burning delivery trucks.
The props on the octocopter are fixed-pitch and the motors are attached rigidly to the structure so control is provided by software which throttles the engines to move the aircraft. The feedback loop has to be very sophisticated to insure that the flight plan is achieved.
Projected implementation? Not before 2015 or a date after the FAA delivers their requirements for unmanned aerial vehicles.
Considerations? Safety is the primary driver. How do you build enough redundancy to insure the drone gets to the proper coordinates and returns to the distribution center. How about exogenous variables such as weather, software glitches, hardware malfunctions, customer delivery receptacles and crowded airspace? I am sure that most of these issues are addressable.
Jeff Bezos and Amazon don’t get into a business without having a thoughtful plan to move Amazon into a position of market leader. Bezos realizes that the next great company is always “just around the corner” and without consumer trust and product innovation, Amazon can be replaced. Clearly, the concept of Prime Air meets the innovation requirement but there will be much competition in this space as the primary delivery companies (ie, UPS, FedEx) are not going stand by idly and let Amazon gut their business.