Amazon.com made headlines when it said on Sunday that it was experimenting with 30-minute UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles, drones) delivery. Many theorized this might make a dent in the bottom line of package delivery services, but perhaps not: The Verge reported on Tuesday that -- whether or not it was aware of Amazon.com's efforts -- UPS, the world's largest parcel delivery service, has been experimenting with its own fleet of delivery drones.
The information came via the typical "sources familiar with the company’s plans." The anonymous informants said that UPS has been testing and evaluating different methods of drone delivery. Asked for a comment, a company spokesman said that, "The commercial use of drones is an interesting technology and we’ll continue to evaluate it. UPS invests more in technology than any other company in the delivery business, and we’re always planning for the future."
Ryan Calo, a law professor specializing in drones and robotics, was hardly shocked by the news. He said:
I would be shocked if a company like UPS wasn’t considering this. If you want to compete in logistics and delivery, drones and unmanned robots have to be part of the conversation about where things are headed.
Surprise or no, as we reported earlier, there are many obstacles in the way of such a delivery service. Foremost among them, of course, would be regulatory approval by the FAA.
There is, of course, also the possibility that some fun-loving folks might want to take potshots at the octocopters (theres are not military class drones, by any means). That's besides all the natural obstacles.
In addition, most Amazon.com distribution warehouses are far outside the 10 mile range that Bezos gave for the working radius of these octocopters. The SF Bay Area, for one, sits 60 miles from the closest one.
Finally, Wired has a fine piece on why this sort of delivery may never happen, even if the FAA eventually approves. That's because these transport companies, as well as Amazon.com, rely on hub-and-spoke delivery.
So why would Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos bring up such a pie-in-the-sky idea? The timing, it would seem, was perfect. His appearance on "60 Minutes" was on Sunday. The next day was Cyber Monday. Viola, plenty of free publicity.
It's not to say that something like this wouldn't make sense if you could pay enough for it. We wouldn't expect, for example, that Amazon Prime Air would be free to Amazon Prime members. If someone were buying something expensive -- perhaps a Rolex -- and then paid $150 for the 30 minute delivery, maybe it would be feasible.
Cost-effective for most deliveries? Maybe never.