SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

December 10, 2013

Column: Droning on with Amazon

Unless there’s something to that myth about Muslim martyrs being issued 72 virgins in paradise, it’s probably of no comfort to the first adherent of radical Islam killed by an unmanned drone that his death has given rise to a potential revolution in the business of delivering small parcels to America doorsteps.

Jeff Bezos believes that in five years fleets of drones will deliver small packages within minutes of the order being placed. Bezos could be dismissed as a nut except that he’s the founder and chief executive of the revolutionary and astonishingly successful retail operation, Amazon.com. He would be a bad person to bet against, even with an impenetrable thicket of federal regulations to navigate before the first tchotchke is dropped on a doorstep.

The prototype Amazon drone is about a yard in diameter, with eight propellers powered by eight lithium ion polymer battery packs (frankly, we have no idea what those are but that’s what the literature says) and a lifting capacity of five pounds. Amazon says 86 percent of its deliveries are five pounds or less. If you order an anvil, the company will have to deliver it by truck and you’ll have to wait two or three days instead of 20 or 30 minutes.

The drones don’t have to contend with traffic or search for parking spaces, although if the concept catches on and the air is filled with little robot helicopters, maybe they’ll have to.

The technology exists for the drones to fly on their own, using GPS to navigate and radar to avoid flying into utility poles and sensors so it doesn’t slice up the family dog, but initially for Amazon’s and the customer’s peace of mind the drones will be directed by controllers back at headquarters.

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