Michael Pehel

Dec 2, 2015 1:27:50 PM

Amazon Prime Air in Action

An important thing happened this year on Black Friday: More people shopped online than in stores for the first time ever. Brick-and-mortar stores might not be dead yet, but they are moving into retirement. However, the wonderful stress-free world of online shopping created by companies like Amazon has left a huge gap if brick-and-mortar goes away. What do you do when you need it now?

Two-day shipping doesn’t cut it for emergencies, and Amazon Prime Air aims to close that gap with 30-minute deliveries by drone. Last Friday, in a flashy promotional video with Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear acting as spokesperson, Amazon revealed the first flight video of its prototype delivery drone.

Clarkson spells out Amazon’s system for rapid delivery using the example of a family needing to replace a pair of ruined soccer cleats before gametime. With the push of a Buy button and the simple placement of a landing spot, the cleats are delivered quickly and safely with a combination of sense-and-avoid technology on the drone, and a user-approved landing.

As easy as the ad makes it sound, Amazon has plenty of hurdles ahead, including regulation from the FAA, and nailing down the logistics to make the 30-minute delivery time feasible with the current payload and battery capacity limits. But the worst is behind them with regulations loosening, allowing for testing along with breakthroughs in open-source firmware that make safety features like sense-and-avoid free and widely available.

What started as the passion of hobbyists grew into a billion-dollar global industry. Although they might be the company most recognizable to the average consumer, Amazon is only one part in an industry that is maturing rapidly with players like DJI, 3DR and Yuneec pushing boundaries in device capabilities regularly. Most of the legwork has been done for them already, but Amazon’s role as industry advocate can’t be underestimated.

As much as insiders like to paint the FAA as villains, they have a very serious role in keeping our skies safe. But Amazon has been a major player in pushing them to accept and adapt to the growing UAV market. The balance of forces will yield better results in the end. After all, the price of lobbying and litigation is couch money for Amazon, and well worth it if it can help them put the final nail in the coffin for brick-and-mortar stores.

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