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Transportation Technology

How Amazon's Drone Deliveries Will Work (yahoo.com) 177

An anonymous reader writes: In a new interview, Amazon has revealed details of the drone delivery program they're building out. VP Paul Misener said, "Prime Air is a future delivery service that will get packages to customers within 30 minutes of them ordering it online at Amazon.com. The goals we've set for ourselves are: The range has to be over 10 miles. These things will weigh about 55 pounds each, but they'll be able to deliver parcels that weigh up to five pounds. It turns out that the vast majority of the things we sell at Amazon weigh less than five pounds." They haven't set pricing yet, but deliveries will follow the same protocols that trucks do now — if you're not home, it'll be left on your doorstep or in your yard. The company is developing different kinds of drones to service different climates. They also expect the regulatory issues to dissipate once they can demonstrate how safe the drones are. Amazon anticipates the vast majority of drone flying to be done between altitudes of 200ft and 400ft.
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How Amazon's Drone Deliveries Will Work

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  • by Stubtify ( 610318 ) on Monday January 18, 2016 @12:58PM (#51322753)
    While I don't think the idea makes a lot of sense (Pinkdot anyone?), it is pretty cool. Serious question: why send these from a warehouse? Why not load a flat bed truck up with 50 or so, and drive it to the closest point that all 50 deliveries share and then release them from the back of the flat bed all at the same time. The video linked in the post shows a drone being launched from a warehouse; not too many people live near amazon warehouses.
    • by Osgeld ( 1900440 ) on Monday January 18, 2016 @01:09PM (#51322853)

      or here's a even better one, why not load the packages up on a truck which then gets distributed from a central hub like thing direct to your door along with other packages going to the same area?

      • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Monday January 18, 2016 @01:22PM (#51322983)

        The standard distribution is good for overnight deliveries. But anything past that gets increasingly expensive.

        A Hub, is designed to handle deliveries within a days travel, they will load up the trucks with a day's worth of goods. And the Driver will spend the full day driving to each location. Going to the Hub in the Morning and at the end of the shift with preferable an empty truck or filled with packages to be delivered elsewhere.

        To give direct delivery from the Hub to your home, and back to the hub, would make delivery extremely expensive. The Drones (50 lbs), being electrical, flying, and automated makes it much cheaper to get an individual package from hub/warehouse to home. Then it would take for a Person (200lbs), a gasoline vehicle (1000+lbs) and driving to drop off you 5 lbs of goods.

        Now the Current system isn't going to go away if you can fill up your truck then you can still be cheaper than a drone/per lbs of material shipped. But if you need it right away drone can be cheaper.

        • A Hub, is designed to handle deliveries within a days travel, they will load up the trucks with a day's worth of goods.

          Depends on the hub and the delivery area. Some trucks can go back to the hub multiple times per day.

          To give direct delivery from the Hub to your home, and back to the hub, would make delivery extremely expensive.

          Which is the reason it's next to impossible for me to order same-day local delivery of flowers from a national floral service. And why it costs a ridiculous sum to get a pizza within 30 minutes from a national chain to arrive at my home.

          Oh wait... those business models have successfully existed for years. It's just that they actually built the local infrastructure for delivery of goods, since those goods

      • by 110010001000 ( 697113 ) on Monday January 18, 2016 @01:27PM (#51323013) Homepage Journal
        That will never work. The packages will fall off the roof of the truck. I can see why you aren't VP at Amazon!
    • You gonna put all the support infrastructure on that truck? You have to swap battery packs after every run, load up new packages, make inspections and repairs of the drones, etc. And you need a pretty large area to stage all the takeoffs and landings.

    • Larger cities (NYC, Seatle) have embedded Amazon sites in the city for prime now and pantry. If that site is converted for flight use the launch pad is already in the city.
    • To load the truck with 50 deliveries means you wouldn't be able to keep the drones in the air. Because the truck will need to drive back and refill with new goods from the warehouse anyways.
       

    • Good point, not only do you extend the range of the operation you also partially get around one serious flaw with it. If all drones launch from one point they can be tracked and captured by criminal mugger drones. The criminals would take the item being delivered and resell it while using the parts of the captured drone to make more mugger drones so that Amazon can't tell for sure if one of the drones in the sky near their warehouse is still on their side or if it has crossed over to the dark-side.

      How ca
    • While I don't think the idea makes a lot of sense (Pinkdot anyone?), it is pretty cool.

      Serious question: why send these from a warehouse? Why not load a flat bed truck up with 50 or so, and drive it to the closest point that all 50 deliveries share and then release them from the back of the flat bed all at the same time. The video linked in the post shows a drone being launched from a warehouse; not too many people live near amazon warehouses.

      Because, at least for now driving requires a human and Amazon probably wants to eliminate humans from the equation - excepting the customer of course.

  • Will they use shells like contractors / subcontractors to cover there ass if some thing goes wrong?

  • These will never be safe. Unmanned 60 pounds of plastic and metal with whirring blades 100-200 feet above populated areas? Yeah right. Amazon is just throwing investors money down a black hole. Just like the Fire TV, Fire Tablet and Phone.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      There is no such thing as "zero risk" technology. It's a good thing safety zealots weren't around 100 years ago, otherwise we would have never developed automobiles or air travel.

      • These aren't even 50% risk technology. Trees, overhead wires, buildings. You can't make it work.
    • by OhPlz ( 168413 )

      We ride around in metal cages with flammable gasoline and electric wiring on roads that may be wet or even ice covered, all throughout populated areas.

    • by ibpooks ( 127372 )

      You mean sort of like 10,000 lb brown steel vans with whirring metal parts and a large payload of flammable fuel piloted by a rushed/distracted operator speeding through populated areas while looking for addresses, backing out of driveways and turning rapidly?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It turns out that the vast majority of the things we sell at Amazon weigh less than five pounds.

    Sure, but surely the average customer buys several things at a time? They should be looking at the weight of the average basket/delivery instead of the average item.

    • If you buy all your groceries from Amazon Pantry, the sky will blacken with a swarm of drones, each loaded with a single can of baked beans.

  • Will the drones/packages be resistant to birdshot fired by inbred rednecks screaming "GUBMINT SPAHS!"?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by ray-auch ( 454705 )

      Forget the gubmint spahs stuff, they've already established they can shoot anything out of the sky over their property ( http://www.cnet.com/news/judge... [cnet.com] ), _and_ that it's also ok for the drone owner to be TTFO at gunpoint...

      Now there's going to be free stuff flying through the air, and it's legal to shoot it down and keep it. That's gonna be redneck heaven, a fairground tin can shoot but free to play, real guns and real prizes...

  • The plan is probably to eventually have a small fleet of drones attached to a self-driving (probably electric drive) vehicle where they can return to recharge after making the delivery hop locally. The drone fleet could also hop to a new vehicle that was dispatched from the local warehouse with new deliveries. I would not be surprised if the vehicles will also be able to recharge themselves at their own charging ports at the warehouse or somewhere on the delivery route.

    • I would not be surprised if the vehicles will also be able to recharge themselves at their own charging ports at the warehouse or somewhere on the delivery route.

      I would be quite surprised if this happens. LiPO batteries take ages to charge, for their flight time. My Chroma has a 6300mAh battery that offers (at most) 25 min of flight time. It takes somewhere between three and five hours to recharge the battery. The logistics don't work out; you would need someone on the truck swapping over the flight packs.

      • If car companies can come up with the idea of automated battery swapping, you can be sure the people at Amazon also thought about it.

      • by dave420 ( 699308 )

        Because people could figure out how to get an automated vehicle driving around streets, and an automated vehicle flying from the first vehicle to various properties and delivering packages, but they couldn't figure out how to automate the changing of batteries. Really?

  • Cool but silly idea (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cnaumann ( 466328 ) on Monday January 18, 2016 @01:21PM (#51322969)

    The idea sounds cool enough, but how does it benefit the customer? I am struggling to figure out what issue is solved by drone delivery. Drones are not faster than cars so it is not a speed issue. The drones require pilots so it is not a labor issue. Drones are expensive compared to a scooter or a used car so it is not a cost issue. Drones can't fly in bad weather so it is not a reliability issue...

    If you are only 10 miles from your customer, you might as well open a retail store. Order on-line and pick up at the counter.

      Pizza delivery has been 30 minutes or less for decades and they do not need drones.

    • by DogDude ( 805747 )
      Amazon is losing money with every item it sells. I can only assume they're trying to save money by not paying a third party for delivery?
    • by asavage ( 548758 )
      If they could deliver to the balcony of an apartment/condo it would make online shopping way better. Currently unless you are home and the driver is willing to buzz, take the elevator etc. you will not get any package and have to go to the pickup location. With drones you would get 100% deliveries on time.
    • by U2xhc2hkb3QgU3Vja3M ( 4212163 ) on Monday January 18, 2016 @04:19PM (#51324361)

      Drones are not faster than cars so it is not a speed issue.

      Drones won't be slowed down by streets, traffic lights and traffic itself. It's going to be pretty much a straight line from start to finish.

      The drones require pilots so it is not a labor issue.

      We have multiple car companies announcing self-driving cars along regular human drivers within 5 to 10 years and you think Amazon's going to need people piloting drones that fly in the air?

      Drones are expensive compared to a scooter or a used car so it is not a cost issue.

      It depends on the components required to build the drone. Also, I don't see UPS using scooters or used cars to make deliveries.

      Drones can't fly in bad weather so it is not a reliability issue...

      Cars can't really drive in bad weather either, they both have their limits. Cars when there's too much wind (up to a point)? Not a problem. Drones when the roads are icy? Not a problem.

      • Drones won't be slowed down by streets, traffic lights and traffic itself. It's going to be pretty much a straight line from start to finish.

        If you get enough drones flying at the same time there will be traffic issues.

      • Cars can't really drive in bad weather either,

        Have you ever been in a car? I have and they handle weather a lot better than a small drone.

    • I read Amazon is considering buying an existing shipping fleet like UPS or building one of their own. They get burned every other Christmas by insufficient capacity. Drones are another option which may or may not be cheaper.
  • Drone laws (Score:4, Interesting)

    by l0n3s0m3phr34k ( 2613107 ) on Monday January 18, 2016 @01:32PM (#51323041)
    The FAA should just ask Amazon to write the laws on commercial drone delivery and save us taxpayers the time and money. Honestly, I trust Amazon to write better rules for this (and take far less time to do so) than the FAA will ever be able to do. They took over a decade to come up with their current "register your drone" website that doesn't do anything but give the feds another list.
    • If I am not mistaken Amazon could do this since anyone can write a bill; it's just a matter of finding a congressman or a senator willing to take a big enough campaign "donation" to sponsor the bill and introduce it to their respective legislative body.

  • by Marc_Hawke ( 130338 ) on Monday January 18, 2016 @01:37PM (#51323089)

    One thing aerial drones can do that delivery guys can't is access a fenced back yard. Instead of dropping it off on the front porch, they can drop it off on your back patio.

    The 'not at home' delivery is the most confusing to me. I can't imagine they'd get very close too the door. They definitely can't 'hide it inconspicuously' behind something. I guess even when you are at home, they can't really knock on the door. So I guess it's just the middle of the yard every time.

    At least the backyard would be better.

    • Right.. The back yard with the bored lab puppy. Who would simply love a nice, chewy box to play with.

    • If Amazon can deliver your package to your back yard, I can take it from your back yard, too.

      BRB, gonna go charge my DJI :D

      • This is no different than current.

        I used to deliver for UPS. The policy was to "driver release" (drop off a package without signature) any package as long as it is a residence and that the package could be left somewhere out of view from the street.

    • I guess they expect most people to be there to get the package since it's pretty much instant.
      You could place the order at work during the lunch break to have it in the evening when you come home, but in that case you might as well place the order before you leave work, and be there on time or close enough to get the package.

    • One thing aerial drones can do that delivery guys can't is access a fenced back yard.

      Are you kidding, have you seen how well these guys can throw even the largest of parcels? They could make a delivery into a prison without issue, no drone required. You may want to get insurance for any glass items though.

    • I think the assumption is that if you want the thing delivered fast by drone you will be there to receive it. If the speed doesn't matter then just have it delivered by normal means. Also I wonder if there's going to be a surcharge for extra fast delivery by drone. That would tend to make the deliveries by drone only those that really need the speed.

  • Barrage Ballon
  • The Response? What if someone shoots at a truck. Murder verses shooing down a drone. Vast difference in crime. Plus the Trucks are on established travel routes that only cross private property via established rights of way (roads).

    For an idea of what they are trying to replace, go find your local UPS distro center. See how many Package cars (UPS calls em cars) leave between 8 and 9 am each morning. Now multiple that by say 300 and you have an idea of off peak season flights (off peak average package ca
    • by jez9999 ( 618189 )

      Or what happens when one of these things has an engine failure and crashes down on someone's head, or causes a traffic accident? Pretty bad PR and I presume Amazon will be financially liable.

    • 200-400' altitude is an established right-of-way.

      • One that property owners will dispute. An invisible right of way is far different from a paved roadway.
  • My address is off by more than 1/4 mile in gps, google maps, google earth, and mapquest. Truly awful.

    Getting regular deliveries is sometimes a problem especially since I am on a road named with a SOUTH at the end and the same road exists in my zipcode as a NORTH! My house number exists on the north too, although there is no structure there.

    Now a computer is going to get this right? I am slightly skeptical.

    Phil

  • I'm curious about the feasibility of front yards combined with the 10 mile limit.

    As the population density increases, yard size decreases. Vast swathes of London do not have drone accessible front yards, for example, even in full sized houses. I presume they've crunched the numbers and found that it's feasible in some places (I don't imagine they've missed such an obvious thing). I'm curious about where it would work.

    In the area I live in, even the full sized houses (with a few exceptions) have small front

    • How about suction cups? The drone just lands horizontally, sticks to your window and then knocks. You open the window and take the package.

      • Or just hovers outside your window.... how long before the peeping toms just attach packages to the drone with the camera to make it look legit?

  • "Hey, John. The Amazon drone crashed again. Here; I think this is the dildo you were expecting."
  • I look forward to following my GPS to the coordinates my package was actually delivered at, probably a nearby field. Should add an extra thrill to getting packages.

  • Drones don't last forever, how do they expect them to leave service? Are they going to throw old but functional drones on the scrap heap? Wait until they don't start and are too hard to repair?

    What proportion are going to end up falling from the sky over populated areas and how dangerous are those going to be?

    • Re:How do they fail? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ibpooks ( 127372 ) on Monday January 18, 2016 @03:04PM (#51323825) Homepage

      I'm sure the same way any fleet of other vehicles is maintained. Repair it until it no longer meets serviceability standard, then part it out or scrap it. How is this any different than if a tire on a UPS truck blows out sending the truck careening into oncoming traffic? They do a reasonable amount of preventative maintenance to ensure a level of usefulness and safety, but occasionally a machine breaks and it could potentially hurt someone when it fails -- just like every other aspect of our lives. I know I'd rather be hit by a 55 pound out-of-control drone than a 10,000 pound out-of-control truck. Even still, I would imagine that a drone AI could be programmed to crash into trees or empty green space or some other reasonably safe emergency landing sites in the event of failure.

      • I would imagine that a drone AI could be programmed to crash into trees or empty green space

        If you think that's going to be a bad day for the drone, wait until it tries to crash into Hulk.

      • I'm sure the same way any fleet of other vehicles is maintained. Repair it until it no longer meets serviceability standard, then part it out or scrap it. How is this any different than if a tire on a UPS truck blows out sending the truck careening into oncoming traffic?

        The truck is already on the ground and the vast majority of failures leave it there.

        Trucks are also much more expensive and contain even more valuable human drivers, this creates a much bigger incentive to keep things working safely. There's also more opportunity for the human driver to mitigate mechanical failures.

        They do a reasonable amount of preventative maintenance to ensure a level of usefulness and safety, but occasionally a machine breaks and it could potentially hurt someone when it fails -- just like every other aspect of our lives. I know I'd rather be hit by a 55 pound out-of-control drone than a 10,000 pound out-of-control truck. Even still, I would imagine that a drone AI could be programmed to crash into trees or empty green space or some other reasonably safe emergency landing sites in the event of failure.

        The 55 lb drone could do quite a bit of damage if it hits you in the head or falls into traffic and startles drivers.

        As for maintenance a lot of businesses operate very close to the margin, somet

        • by ibpooks ( 127372 )

          The truck is already on the ground and the vast majority of failures leave it there.

          Does it matter? Many, many people are also on the ground in the proximity of streets, so if it goes wild it is still likely to hit pedestrians and vehicles. Drones could feasibly avoid busy streets by taking routes over rooftops for example; trucks simply cannot thereby forcing failure modes where people, cars and trucks collide.

          Trucks are also much more expensive and contain even more valuable human drivers, this creates a much bigger incentive to keep things working safely. There's also more opportunity for the human driver to mitigate mechanical failures.

          Agreed on the value disparity, but it seems to be in line with the opportunity for the vehicle to cause damage. Absolute worse case is a drone hits a person on the head and kills

          • The human driver also provides a significant failure mode...

            And some untested, unproven pie in the sky idea doesn't? You are comparing something real with something imaginary. These things don't exist, and until they do, you can't just assume the best case scenario to make your fantasy sound more appealing.

      • Keep in mind their drone prototype is a hybrid plane too... it should be able to glide on power loss.

    • We pretty much know how these things will fail. Batteries are only good for so many discharge / recharge cycles, so simple counting can tell you when to dump a battery (note that disposing of LiPo batteries can be an environmental nightmare if not done properly). Motor and ESC failure is known but tends to happen on spin-up (these machines are not racing quads, so there shouldn't be the huge instantaneous current draws that a racer needs). The biggest single point of in-flight failure is propellers: you

  • >> How Amazon's Drone Deliveries Will Work

    Easy: just like flying cars. And just as realistic.

    • >> How Amazon's Drone Deliveries Will Work

      Easy: just like flying cars. And just as realistic.

      Agree, and I can't understand how otherwise normal people can believe such bullshit will ever see the light of day.
      There are so many unsolved issues with the concept it's not funny.

  • Most houses around here have four to six stories with 8 to 18 flats. A drone could only deliver to the entrance of the house. That, however, is directly on the sidewalk. Every pedestrian will be able to take it away or accidently kick it or fall over it. This is at best a solution for urban areas where no robberies take place.

  • You don't use the drone to deliver the packages silly, you put them up to survey wind speed/direction and identify the target then fire the packages from a canon on the top of the truck or you drop the package from 10,000' and use the drone to operate the tiny cardboard control surfaces and deploy the package's parachute.

    The package itself makes a doorbell noise when it lands.

  • In the short term I expect they will charge the same amount for drone delivery as for same-day delivery by human drivers, with perhaps a short term offering of free or reduced rate shipping to get people to try it. In the long term it will depend on how the costs shake out; if it turns out to be costlier than dispatching drivers they will charge extra for right-now delivery, if it's cheaper they will use drones for all the same-day deliveries that are within the weight limit.

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