December 2, 2013

Amazon delivery by unmanned octocopter.

This drone thing is nutty, isn't it?

Reminds me of this passage from Bill Bryson's great memoir "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid":
Every week brought exciting news of things becoming better, swifter, more convenient. Nothing was too preposterous to try. MAIL IS DELIVERED BY GUIDED MISSILE The Des Moines Register reported with a clear touch of excitement and pride on the morning of June 8, 1959, after the U.S. Postal Service launched a Regulus I rocket carrying three thousand first-class letters from a submarine in the Atlantic Ocean onto an airbase in Mayport, Florida, one hundred miles away. Soon, the article assured us, rockets loaded with mail would be streaking across the nation’s skies. Special delivery letters, one supposed, would be thudding nosecone-first into our backyards practically hourly.

“I believe we will see missile mail developed to a significant degree,” promised Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield at the happy celebrations that followed. In fact nothing more was ever heard of missile mail. Perhaps it occurred to someone that incoming rockets might have an unfortunate tendency to miss their targets and crash through the roofs of factories or hospitals, or that they might blow up in flight, or take out passing aircraft, or that every launch would cost tens of thousands of dollars to deliver a payload worth a maximum of $120 at prevailing postal rates.

The fact was that rocket mail was not for one moment a realistic proposition, and that every penny of the million or so dollars spent on the experiment was wasted. No matter. The important thing was knowing that we could send mail by rocket if we wanted to. This was an age for dreaming, after all.
By the way, isn't it strange that, describing something that's supposed to be exciting and beneficial, a key word is "unmanned"?

37 comments:

Lauderdale Vet said...

Let me know when I can mark an LZ on my roof, set up a mini Amazon Air control tower and defense battery :)

Sorun said...

"This drone thing is nutty, isn't it?"

Yes. There isn't a need for it. There aren't many things on Amazon that you need in 30 minutes, unless Amazon is going to start delivering pizzas.

Imagine sitting on your deck with drones buzzing back and forth through the neighborhood. I don't think so.

Sorun said...

CBS got suckered again.

Original Mike said...

I don't understand the last 100 feet. I don't want the package left in the middle of the driveway.

The Drill SGT said...

Postal Service launched a Regulus I rocket

FWIW, Regulus wasn't a "rocket". It was a turbojet.

Effectively a "cruise jet", a product improvement of the German V-1

Sorun said...

I assume Bezos thinks it's stupid too, but he wants an excuse to spend money advancing small drone technology. That would be useful. Application TBD.

Lauderdale Vet said...

If they expand Amazon Fresh into more areas, it will be even more useful.

Walter S. said...

It makes sense to me, but just in special cases---isolated places like mountaintops, ships at sea, or even just farms and ranches.

Joe said...

So, how do you return the box?

And who really wants to put up with hundreds of noisy drones buzzing around? I say shotgun time.

(This will seriously become the life goal of the teenage boy--shooting down drones without getting caught. Simply slingshots, pellet guns, paint guns and airsoft will probably work. And I'll encourage them.)

Henry said...

By the way, isn't it strange that, describing something that's supposed to be exciting and beneficial, a key word is "unmanned"?

I find the phrase "unmanned drone" to be vaguely humorous. It's a tautology. What other drones are there? Besides this kind:

Mating occurs in flight, which accounts for the need of the drones for better vision, which is provided by their large eyes. Should a drone succeed in mating he soon dies because the penis and associated abdominal tissues are ripped from the drone's body after sexual intercourse.

Unmanned indeed.

BTW, the etymology is delightful:

The word 'drone' comes from the Old English 'dran or dræn'[1] meaning 'male honeybee'.[citation needed] In the 16th century it was given the figurative sense of 'idler' or 'lazy worker', as male bees make no honey, which is sometimes given as a folk etymology of the word 'drone' itself.
Alongside 'dran', Old English also used the word 'dore' for male bees, but its meaning was broader, as is seen in 'dumbledore', meaning bumblebee. 'Dore' survives in Dutch as 'dar', meaning 'drone'.


Dumbledore!

Henry said...

Picking up on Joe's comment, this is a great technology if what you've ordered is an octocopter. The package, it delivers itself.

tim maguire said...

The appeal will be very limited, but there is a market out there. As any bike messenger can tell you, sometimes it's worth a great deal of money to get something delivered in 30 minutes.

rhhardin said...

Some kids off the end of the Basking Ridge NJ runway were flying a kite to see if it could affect airplanes.

I always tried to catch it in a wing vortex.

Drones would be the same.

St. George said...

They are amazing and can fly in precise formation.

Soon you'll be in a national park. Say, you fall, break something. A little bird will land on your shoulder. Except it won't be a bird. It will be a robot ranger dedicated to constantly scanning its sector. It will talk to you, pat you with its wing tip to comfort you. It's sensors will tell medics your condition, and it will wait with you until they come.

And, yes, there are already lifelike flying bird robots.

Diana said...

Jeff Bezos is a creepy little man, I don't care how rich he is. He's just repulsive.

That drone thing will never happen. It's a publicity stunt. Total nonsense.

Fred Drinkwater said...

rhhardin:
In the 90's there was an incident at Palo Alto (PAO)where a light plane caught a kite string on approach, and dragged the kid flying it, causing injuries. (I suppose she had the line wrapped around her wrist or something else unsafe, but whatever.)
I believe kite flying at that part of Shoreline Park is no longer permitted :-)

lgv said...

Of couple of people are on to it. The technology as such will never be commercialized. The research may lead to another solution. Bezos noted it was only feasible in densely populated areas near the distribution facilities, exactly where it would be most difficult to fly them, not isolated places like mountaintops, ships at sea.

I remember working a new technology, one that was worked on for 30 years. Our motto, "Tomorrow's Technology, is an always will be."

EDH said...

A convoluted plumbing of pneumatic tubes right out of "1984" seems to be a better fit.

PB Reader said...

It's called R&D. You have to try things out to see where they can go and be useful. Rarely in the early stage are they practical or immediately viable. If you don't innovate and potentially disrupt your current way of doing things, someone else certainly will.

PB Reader said...

Pneumatic tube systems sometimes reached grand scale, and tube systems for delivery of physical things are still in great use (water, gas, sewage). Prague and Paris had immense systems totaling over 400 km in length.

Phaedrus said...

Here's even bigger news. I am in the final stages of testing the "Doo Doo Drone" It will retrieve the manure left by neighbors pets on my lawn (where my grandkids play daily in good weather) It will then deposit the collected specimen at the appropriate neighbor's location. That location may include their open convertible, boat, motorcycle seat, lawn chair or if I become proficient at hitting moving targets . . . . Doo Doo II will include flaming brown bag to be delivered to neighbors front parch after dark. Merry Christmas neighbors!

Joe said...

Another problem: when a drone goes to an apartment building, where will it land? How will the package be delivered to the intended recipient? In those same areas, the population density makes traditional delivery methods cost effective. In other words, the places the drones won't reach are the very places where they might be marginally cost effective.

(And where's the government tax and program to extend this service to the poor--can't forget that!)

Sorun said...

"The appeal will be very limited, but there is a market out there."

Yes, a high-end service flying stuff around Manhattan seems more realistic.

Foobarista said...

Leading a post office with a strategic rocket force would definitely put the "General" into Postmaster General.

Foobarista said...

Leading a post office with a strategic rocket force would definitely put the "General" into Postmaster General.

Mark Harrison said...

This is an area I'm actively working in (and documenting at http://eastbay-rc.blogspot.com ).

Bezos' vision isn't possible with current technology, but five years is a long time in that space.

A lot of what Bezos has said in the past was dismissed as crazy talk and is now a firmly established part of our culture, so I'd be at least a little bit cautious in dismissing the idea out of hand.

MadisonMan said...

Picking up on Joe's comment, this is a great technology if what you've ordered is an octocopter. The package, it delivers itself.

I reminded of the old Peanuts cartoon -- late 50s -- in which one of them buys a Wastepaper basket that comes wrapped, and the wrapping paper goes in the Wastepaper basket as they claim that such a basket comes in handy.

(Of course I memorized all the old Peanuts cartoons -- why do you ask?)

Vittorio Jano IV said...

For the missile mail collectors:
http://www.collectspace.com/ubb/Forum20/HTML/000886.html

tim maguire said...

Sorun said..."The appeal will be very limited, but there is a market out there."

Yes, a high-end service flying stuff around Manhattan seems more realistic.


That's what I had in mind--New York, Washington, Hong Kong, London, a handful of other places where lots of money is concentrated in a few square miles.

The people here who say it will never happen are wrong. It is not impossible, it is inevitable.

Peter said...

It might create a garbage problem if the drones were disposable.

But if they were, long-distance delivery to places with high population density (NYC, etc.) might consist of dumping a mass of short-range, disposable cargo drones out the back of a cargo plane.

If cellphone companies can figure out where everyone's phone is (as they must to route incoming calls to you) then I don't see why automated air traffic control of all these drones would necessarily be impossible.

Jim Bullock said...

Let's recall the Segway.

Bezos is one of several high-profile tech CEOs who confidently predicted that Segways would be a bigger revolution than the interwebs, and they'd especially reconfigure cities, burbs & human habits.

By now.

The problems are of contentions, habits, human adaptation, and physical world constraints. These aren't as malleable as the business models (external) or information-driven operating efficiencies (internal) that define Amazon.

As another example of this difference note that while Amazon's inventory & distribution *service* is a unique business model offering, the performance of their inventory and distribution is in the neighborhood of other big practitioners. The innovation is in making that level of performance available as fee-for-service to little guys, similar to renting data center capacity as fee-for-service to little guys. Amazon runs its data centers only in the neighborhood of the other big practitioners (and don't get me going on AWS.) Their innovation is the business model, kind of like Dell back in the day.

For Amazon's retail success people had to get used to shopping online & having stuff delivered - two things that had antecedents for generations in catalog sales and home delivery.

All that said, I think metro-drones are for meal delivery, disrupting the restaurant pickup & delivery services in larger, affluent cities. That and Dominoes.

Diamondhead said...

Remember Reagan? Remember 'Star Wars'? Maybe it's technologically feasible. Maybe he's hoping some of Amazon's cash-hemorrhaging competitors try to follow suit. Maybe he was hoping for an advertising bonanza the likes of which a free infomercial on 60 Minutes couldn't provide.

Largo said...

Reminds me of Radio Goodies

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbVklX9BqGY&t=13m53s

EMD said...

"This is to notify you that your Amazon Prime Air shipment was lost in a mild thunderstorm. Sorry for the inconvenience."

EMD said...

This is to notify you that your Amazon Prime Air shipment is delayed due to being downed in a frisbee golf incident. We are re-routing your package via road transit. Sorry for the inconvenience."

EMD said...

"This is to notify you that your Amazon Prime Air shipment is delayed due to being shot down by bored hillbillies. We are re-routing your package via road transit. Sorry for the inconvenience."

Nandhini Sukumar said...

How surprising it will really be when a Octocopter lands in front of our house and delivers the product which we have ordered.

http://www.tamilnetonline.com/octocopter-pilotless-aircraft-operated-by-remote-control-to-deliver-goods/