Amazon drones could be flying through the sky delivering your purchases in fewer than 30 minutes, according to an announcement CEO Jeff Bezos made in November.
It drew skeptics and supporters, questions and complaints. What do the experts say?
Dr. Arthur Richards – Senior lecturer in Dynamics & Control at the University of Bristol and member of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory
Q: What are the technological challenges facing the introduction of drones to this sector? What challenges will the drones themselves face during delivery?
A: The drones will need to handle wind, rain, snow, ice, curious birds or even ambitious thieves. Solutions to many of those challenges exist in the lab, but integrating them into one robust product won’t be easy or cheap. Proving the safety of that integrated system will be extremely tough. Scaling the capability up to large numbers will be even tougher.
Q: Do you think the Amazon drone demonstration was purely a publicity stunt, or do you think Amazon will be looking to actually use drones in the future?
A: As with many ‘prototype’ ideas much will depend on the reaction to the market and regulators to this.
In that respect we can expect an enthusiasm from early adopters for an exciting technology and concerns about the risk perceptions that may arise in others. It’s important to prepare ourselves for the risk debate being less about the actual risk (helicopters fly our city skies and occasionally drop from them to tragic effect), but what seems to matter most is how the risk is perceived. Drones have the added misfortune of being not in the immediate control of a morally motivated human.
So it may become a publicity stunt (I think this is most likely) but a more positive reaction may see Amazon seek to operationalise the expectation they’ve potentially created.
Professor Michael Bourlakis – Professor in Logistics & Supply Chain Management at Cranfield University and Head of the Supply Chain Research Centre
Q: Do you think that drone use for delivery is something that is likely to be seen everywhere in the future? If so, how long do you think it will be until drones are widely used?
A: Depending on obtaining the right permissions and investing in the appropriate infrastructure, we may be looking a wider use in the next 10 years or so.
Q: What are the logistical challenges facing the introduction of drone use? What challenges will the drones themselves face during delivery?
A: There are many challenges for Amazon and e-commerce companies in general. First, Amazon’s distribution centres are too far away from metropolitan areas to make drone deliveries efficient. Amazon would need to design their supply chain design based on this new technology. The routing engine needs to integrate single-item delivery with the web store but this shouldn’t be a big problem. Another challenge is that on the way back to the warehouse drones would be empty and thus inefficient.