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Watch out Cambridge, the Amazon Drones are coming!

By Dan Wilson November 13, 2014 - 10:09 am

Amazon Prime Air HomeAmazon is expanding its operations to Cambridge. Obviously, Cambridge is the home to one of the UK’s most ancient universities but it’s also a hive of technology and a number of high-tech industries and research labs are feeding ecommerce from bases there. Its a sensible new location for a tech-minded firm like Amazon which already has locations in Slough, London and Edinburgh.

Amazon snapped up Cambridge-based speech tech startup Evi Technologies two years ago and it seems now it’s establishing more of a presence. And it seems that Drones for delivery are part of the plan.

My real question is whether this Amazon Drones stuff is for real or whether it’s some sort of prolonged, futuristic PR tease.

But according to a report from Techcrunch it does seem that Drones are part of the Amazon strategy and Amazon is hiring for positions working towards that aim. They have been seeking a Flight Operations Engineer, for starters.

In the States, Amazon reported in July that it has sought permission from the US Federal Aviation Administration to test drones that could fly as fast as 50mph for up to 30 minutes at a time to deliver parcels weighing up to 2.3kg.

It all still sounds very far-fetched, but maybe it has legs. (Err, wings. – Ed.)

  • PeteStan
    2 years ago

    Whilst I can understand why they may want drones for deliveries, it would be quicker than waiting a day or two for the delivery company, unlike in the US where they seem to leave parcels on people’s doorsteps (according to the movies I have no idea if they really do or not), if you were to do that in the UK you would run the risk of it being stolen and who wants any item you ordered sitting on the step all day in the rain or dumped in your back garden as supposedly some couriers do now.
    Presumably they could only do it if the person was going to be home for the next xxx hours and that would also mean you would be stuck there and not able to nip out.
    I suppose being amazon they have probably thought about all these things and have a plan.

    • Simon M
      2 years ago

      >> dumped in your back garden as supposedly some couriers do now.

      2 left this week in our food bin – yuk!!!

  • Mark
    2 years ago

    The regulations for the flight of unmanned drones (at least in the populated areas most Amazon customers will be in) will need a significant amount of change before any form of delivery becomes viable.

    Even if drones are allowed they will be expensive to use and the vast majority of Amazon purchases will be delivered the conventional way.

    Flying for 30 mins at 50mph would only give the drones a range of 12.5 miles from their base (assuming that they return to the base to be reused). It would likely be a lot less as they will not travel that quickly most of the time and would spend time at the point of delivery.

    To serve an adequate number of people Amazon would have to invest in more local fulfilment centres, basing a team of motorbikes or small vans at these locations would allow within the hour deliveries to many people at a fraction of the cost of the drones.

    Unlike some of the other large tech firms Amazon has a fairly low turnover to profit ratio so it seems a bit odd for them to be investing in something that may take a substantial time to become viable. If, in the future, somebody develops drone technology that is allowed Amazon could still make use of it (as it does the existing post and courier networks).

  • 2 years ago

    I find myself wonder just how strong these things are in relation to wind and weather. Obviously in the summer with little rain and wind they would be ideal. But we are rapidly heading for Christmas. The weather Gods have dusted off their very worst weather with wind and torrential rain in the forecasts. So how would these drones manage in a typical winter?

  • Cambridge_Blue
    2 years ago

    This exercise is probably funded by their marketing budget.
    In other words it is a load of spin for PR purposes.
    Look at the coverage this nonsense has already got in the media just prior to the Christmas and Black Friday sales period.
    Expect to see the same story re-told & re-packaged next year as well & so on.
    Ignore this blatant product (company) placement & move on – nothing to see here.

    • Robert C
      2 years ago

      I agree, it is a complete PR exercise.

      From the above comments regarding security, effiency and weather issues it is clear that the use of drones for delivery is near impossible to implement. I just feel sorry for the people employed to “develop” this idea, as their hard work and creativity will go to waste for the sake of a couple of column inches just before Christmas.

  • Tony C
    2 years ago

    Never mind the parcels being stolen; it’s only a matter of time before the drones will begin to get knocked off ;)

  • james
    2 years ago

    i dont think its half as pie-in-the-sky as everyone seems to be believing here. No its not even remotely close to a finished product, and no its not suitable for all areas. even if they only end up using it in greater california, they’ll probably return their outlay several times in the first few years.

    yes there are hurdles to overcome, many easy, many not so.

    we already have amazon lockers, its not a million miles away from an amazon drop-pad.

    criminals arent all that smart, but you’re only going to steal one GPS enabled, network hard-wired, video recording device fitted with anti-tamper measures, before you learn that it was a very bad idea to start with. especially since you’re looking at a resale price of virtaully nothing.
    the risk/reward here is a hundred times lower than mobile phone theft, and nobody bothers to steal mobiles any more because its just not worth it.
    – balance this against the fact you wont hear any news stories of drones being caught “on the take” with a bedroom full of other peoples parcels, and again the drones are paying for themselves.

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