It hasn’t been a revolution in delivery tech, that’s for sure.
After a decade of drone dreams, Amazon’s autonomous delivery service seems to be barely functional.
As the New York Times reports, the mega retailer is still only delivering via drone in two cities, and even those who use the service say that it’s more like a nifty toy than a useful delivery option because of its many limitations.
The company’s drones can only carry small items that are five pounds or less and that can survive a 12-foot drop, the NYT reports. Even after meeting those standards, the drone deliveries are hamstrung by environmental factors as well, including rain, wind and heat, the latter of which is an issue for College Station, Texas, where Amazon drones are a regular sight.
Amazon also requires there to be no cars anywhere near a dropoff point, meaning customers frequently have to move their cars out of their driveways, and they’re required to put down a large target that the flying robots are said to often miss. Customers are also required to be physically present to accept the deliveries, not only to avoid porch pirates but also because sometimes, items will roll into the street.
Wants vs. Needs
According to Dominique Lord and Leah Silverman, who were early adopters of Amazon’s “Prime Air” service and offered $100 as a promotion to use it, these restrictions make it difficult to actually get anything they need. Instead, they get free stuff sent to them by drone, like a single jar of peanut butter, a can of soup, or Listerine breath mints — all of which come in giant boxes that dwarf the products inside.
“We don’t really need anything they offer for free,” Silverman told the NYT. “The drones feel more like a toy than anything — a toy that wastes a huge amount of paper and cardboard.”
All these restrictions make Amazon’s drone service seem like more trouble than it’s worth, and you’d be forgiven for forgetting that in the early 2010s, CEO Jeff Bezos promised a delivery revolution via the technology.
In November 2013, Bezos took to “60 Minutes” to show off Amazon’s “octocopters.”
“I know this looks like science fiction,” the CEO said. “It’s not.”
Although he admitted the technology would take “years” to roll out properly, so little progress has been made in the ensuing decade that it’s almost surprising the company announced last month that it plans to add cities in the United Kingdom and Italy next year to its two-town Prime Air roster that includes College Station and Lockeford, California.
If the program does expand across the pond, it may be difficult to deliver to the famously-wet UK.
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