The Oaks Ignore Their Pleas

Amazon’s Holiday Drone Story

Posted in General by Jeff Graves on December 6, 2013

I need to learn to get my thoughts into a post quicker, because every time I start thinking about an idea for one, someone else beats me to the punch. This one isn’t surprising, though, as it involves the big tech story of the week, Amazon’s announcement that it’s looking into using drones for package delivery “someday”, and the resulting uproar.

Farhad Manjoo offers a really well written take on why this announcement wasn’t a bad thing, from a number of dimensions. He does a better job than I, but the summary is that in one fell swoop, Amazon raised the profile of commercial drones and got more people talking about the pros and cons, and managed to capture some highly coveted publicity during a key moment in the holiday season beside.

On the other side of the coin, Wired Magazine’s Marcus Wohlsen piled a bit of ridicule on CBS’ 60 Minutes for playing along with what he saw as Amazon’s blatant attempt to capture the news cycle for promotional purposes. He also outlined a pretty practical critique of the reasons why drone delivery won’t make sense, financial or otherwise for Amazon anytime soon.

I’m not all that bothered by the publicity angle here – given the holiday season and the propensity of folks to use Amazon as a shopping outlet, I think a lot of people are interested in how the company works. Besides, this isn’t the first time that a commercial enterprise has tapped into television news to their benefit – Macy’s commandeers the cast of NBC’s Today Show every Thanksgiving for 3 hours to showcase their parade, all filmed directly in front of their flagship store, with logos and holiday decorations aplenty.

I’m also not outraged by Jeff Bezos raising the possibility of unmanned delivery at some point in the future. While I agree with Wired’s Wohlsen that the drone approach seems a bit far-fetched when you think about the logistics, I think it’s entirely possible, and in fact likely, that in the not-too-far off future, at least a portion of goods will be moved by unmanned vehicles. I’m not talking about next year, or even 5 years from now, but 15-20 years out, given the continual advances in software and guidance, I think we’ll see it happen.

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