3 Things That Could Ground Amazon Drones

For one thing, they can't find your door, writes David Axe

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Dec 3, 2013 8:51 AM CST

(Newser) – Jeff Bezos wants Amazon's "Prime Air"—in which drones would make deliveries to your door—to zip packages to buyers in as few as five years. But at Reuters, David Axe isn't so sure the drones will ever get off the ground. First, the project would have to soar over these hurdles:

  • The idea is currently illegal: ...on a number of fronts. Per FAA rules, drones can't be used commercially. Nor can they fly higher than 400 feet (which Axe admits Amazon could work around), and they're not allowed in populated areas (which is a major wrench, since they'll need to deliver to ... populated areas). That said, new, looser rules are due next year.

  • Even sophisticated drones aren't very smart: For instance, they can't read your door number—or even identify the front door, Axe writes. They'll also have trouble ringing the doorbell. Scientists are working on the problem, but it may be more than five years before it's solved.
  • These drones ain't cheap: The kind of speedy, load-bearing drones Amazon would need would cost about $50,000 each. Axe crunched the numbers: The annual cost for a driver and his truck is $40,000 (Axe assumes that truck cost is spread over a decade), and he'd be able to drop off 75 packages per day; you'd need six drones, at $300,000, to match that. You wouldn't see a cost advantage with the drones until you hit year eight, and "eight years is a long time for a tiny, complex machine prone to crashes and malfunctions. The bottom line is that people are probably cheaper."
Click for Axe's final reason ... which is, essentially, you. Or read one of these humorous reactions to Bezos' plan.

This undated image provided by Amazon.com shows the so-called Prime Air unmanned aircraft project that Amazon is working on in its research and development labs.
This undated image provided by Amazon.com shows the so-called Prime Air unmanned aircraft project that Amazon is working on in its research and development labs.   (AP Photo/Amazon)
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