Same-day delivery is an elusive and expensive, yet appealing concept, that appears to be the next big battleground in e-commerce. Need a last-minute gift for the evening's birthday party? Hanukah passing you by? No need to stop at the mall -- just try one of the many competing services profiled by the San Francisco Chronicle and have the item delivered to your office before you leave.
The appeal is obvious, but the profitable model is not. After all, same-day delivery using current logistics models (trucks, delivery drivers) requires a nearby warehouse stocked and/or local retailers with the items, plus trucks and staffing levels sufficient to handle surges in demand (Christmas), and the corresponding dips (um, say, March) without going bankrupt.
Here's another, some say betterr way forward: strap the package to an octocopter and deliver it within 30 minutes. That's Amazon's plan, anyway.
Why It Won't Work
An op-ed in The Guardian provides a number of reasons why the Amazon drone shipping plan (PrimeAir) could fail. How reliable are unmanned drones? What about terror concerns from hundreds of drones buzzing around busy cities dropping off mysterious packages? And, of course, there's always the issue of children with BB guns shooting down the planes!
Those reasons are a bit far-fetched, aren't they? First of all, how many children have unsupervised access to BB guns (or real guns), the skill to shoot a moving target? And terrorists? It's much easier to dress up like a delivery guy and drop off boxes, rather than pay for expensive drones. And we can be reasonably sure that if Amazon is going to stake their reputation on a drone-based delivery system, that the octocopters are going to be reasonably reliable.
One real obstacle is regulation. The Federal Aviation Administration has a congressional mandate to issue commercial drone regulations by 2015, yet has already missed one deadline, reports Forbes. How much do we (and Amazon) trust them to get a system of regulations, which will have to deal with avoiding other aircrafts' airspace, plus avoiding people, buildings, electronic interference, and other drones, in a timely but not overly-restrictive manner?
Why it Will Work
Seriously, if anyone can pull this off, it's the online behemoth Amazon. They have the warehouses, the products, and Jeff Bezos, who has built the business from an online bookstore to an online everything store, and whose obsession with and investment in logistics continues, despite the company becoming a household name, akin to Walmart and Target.
So long as the FAA sets regulations in a timely manner, this seems to us like a feasible concept, at least for smaller items. Cheap self-piloting drones dropping boxes at GPS locations or street addresses is barely more risky than delivery drivers leaving boxes on doorsteps.
Drone deliveries -- far-fetched fiction or a looming logistics model? Tweet us your opinion @FindLawLP.
- Amazon Unveils Futuristic Plan: Delivery By Drone (60 Minutes)
- Amazon Floats the Notion of Delivery Drones (New York Times)
- Black Friday: Tech Specs to Look For When Buying an Office Computer (FindLaw's Technologist Blog)
- FindLaw's Legal Technology Center (FindLaw)