Amazon Prime Air doomed before the first drone launches

Starship Local Delivery RobotAt The Delivery Conference there was an expectation that deliveries will soon change forever. There’s the exciting side of future deliveries such as the Starship self driving local delivery robot that took to the stage to drones in the air. The more down to earth options such as lockers and local collect already available from companies like DHL and Doddle. Everyone accepted that delivery innovation is hotting up, but which ideas are winners and which are doomed to fail.

Today we consider Amazon and their Prime Air delivery drones and ask the question: Will drone delivery ever become the norm?

Amazon delivery infrastructure

Amazon is an interesting example as they primarily delivery but don’t have collections. They’re one of the leading drone developers and if they have the will, could be the first to make routine drone parcel delivery a reality. Before we look at drones, we have to look at the Amazon’s delivery infrastructure.

Amazon CourierAmazon Logistics depots vary in size – we know that in Hedge End, Southampton they have around 140 drivers but at the Bardon Midlands depot closer to 400 drivers are delivering Amazon packages.

If we take a typical courier it’s not unusual for them to undertake 100 deliveries in a day. We suspect that Amazon’s drivers probably deliver more as they won’t be doing collections which your typical courier will be expected to fit in after distributing outgoing packages.

Let’s take a Amazon delivery depot with 20 drivers each with 100 parcels to deliver in a day. That gives us a total of 2,000 parcels that need to be dropped off in a (for Amazon) relatively small depot.

What would infrastructure drone deliveries need?

Amazon Prime AirIf all the deliveries were to be undertaken by drones one would have to leave the depot every 15 seconds to get through 2,000 parcels in eight hours. We have to assume that drones would only be flying in daylight hours, so although in the Summer they could fly for longer, in Winter they’d be lucky to get a full eight hours of daylight.

Amazon have stated that their drone specification will enable deliveries as far as 10 miles from the depot in as little as 30 minutes. Realistically once a drone returns there’ll be downtime whilst the batteries are recharged, so imagine drones starting to return every 15 seconds all needing to be plugged into a power socket. If a return trip including charging could be undertaken in an hour, Amazon would still need a fleet of 240 drones.

We don’t know the size of Amazon’s drones, but we can estimate that they’ll be close to 3 feet long. The sheer warehouse size to house 240 drones all coming and going, being charged and lining up to pick up their next parcel is staggering. Not to mention the maintenance facilities that would be required to keep hundreds of drones in the air.

The future reality of Drone Delivery

Drone delivery will probably happen in some shape or form. Drones will be superb for say urgent deliveries of drugs or blood to hospitals or even to emergency crews at accident sites. Drones appear an attractive goal for the occasional urgent delivery charged at a premium rate.

Let’s not get carried away with the hype however, we will never see a fleet of drones replacing the courier vans trundling around our streets. Neither the sky nor any existing warehouse has the space to house a fleet of drones of the size required to make a real dent in Amazon’s deluge of daily deliveries. It’s just not going to happen.