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Focus: Transportation Management

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From SCDigest's On-Target E-Magazine

- Dec. 3, 2013 -


Updated! Supply Chain News: Amazon Working on New Drone Delivery System, but Skeptics Abound

Bezos Makes Announcement on 60 Minutes; Could be Ready as Early as 2015; We Have the Video; Can Safety Issues Ever be Resolved?

SCDigest Editorial Staff


Update Dec. 3, 2013


While Amazon's announcement that is was actively testing drone technology to deliver products to customers in less than 30 minutes has certainly got the business and supply chain worlds buzzing, there are huge challenges to really making the idea work, many experts are saying.


Loren Thompson, an analyst at the Lexington Institute, told the Financial Times that the dangers of drones in civil aerospace likely means that regulatators could never accept them in the numbers Amazon would need to provide a viable service.

"I'm not sure putting this number of drones in metropolitan airspace could ever be made safe," he said.

The less expensive type drones Amazon is testing lack the sophisticated sensory systems more expensive military drones have, meaning risks of collisions and accidents could be high.


"The likelihood that drones would hit high structures and electrical structures is very great because they probably would lack the internal memory to maneuver around such objects," added Thompson.


However, others believe that the technology in this area could advance at such a rapid pace that these safety challenges could be solved in the four or five years Bezos said Amazon Prime Air could be ready. The Amazon web site says that it will be ready when US regulators are ready, which could be as early as 2015.


Christian Sanz, co-founder of Skycatch, an aerial robotics start-up, envisions an "air highway" scheme that would provide dedicated, regulated pathways through cities for unmanned aerial vehicles, perhaps following existing routes on land such as train tracks.


He believes it is highly unlikely there would be delivery to a consumer's back porch any time soon, such as shown in Amazon's video promoting the potential Prime Air service.


Orginal Story Dec. 2, 2013


Most supply chain professional probably thought efulfillment developments couldn't get much wilder for this year, after recent news that Amazon was both co-locating mini-fulfillment centers inside customer DCs (e.g., Procter & Gamble), and then more recently that it has entered into an agreement with the United States Post Office for Sunday delivery in select markets. That followed a slew of news earlier in the year by both Amazon and others such as ebay.

SCDigest Says:

The drone drops off the package, and instantly heads back to its DC base. It does not appear to be interested in a tip.
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But they would be wrong.

On an interview Sunday night on CBS's 60 Minutes program, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos dropped the bomb that the company was actively developing a new drone-based delivery service that could get products to customers in as little as just minutes.

Being developed for now at least under the name Amazon Prime Air, the program takes fulfillment possibilities to a whole new level.

As shown in the video we provided below, a customer places an order on Amazon's site and selects Prime Air as the delivery method, which promises 30-minute service.

From there, that order gets special treatment, moving down a special conveyor line at the end of which sits a small drone (which Amazon calls octocopters), maybe 2-feet wide plus some wing span that carriers helicopter-type blades on each side. The drone grabs a special small container into which the picked product had been placed, and off it flies, arriving some minutes later at the back patio of a consumer.

The drone drops off the package, and instantly heads back to its DC base. It does not appear to be interested in a tip, nor require a signature.

On 60 Minutes, Bezos said they design goal was to be able to carry products that weigh less than 5 pounds. That certainly cuts down on the range of products that could utilize the service, but one has to believe Amazon has analyzed this and found there were enough products under that weight to be viable.

Amazon Prime Air Concept




Amazon put up a brief web page after the 60 Minutes broadcast, noting that "The goal of this new delivery system is to get packages into customers' hands in 30 minutes or less using unmanned aerial vehicles."

(Transportation Management Article Continued Below)



Amazon noted that "Putting Prime Air into commercial use will take some number of years as we advance the technology and wait for the necessary FAA rules and regulations." But that might not be all that far away.
The web paged added that it "hopes the FAA's rules will be in place as early as sometime in 2015. We will be ready at that time."

Bold predictions from Amazon as usual. It says that "One day, Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today."

The FAA currently limits the use of drones in the U.S. to public entities such as police forces and hobbyists, meaning the devices cannot be used in return for payment. The regulator, however, did say recently that it plans to have regulations governing commercial use in place by 2015.

"Amazon will not be able to darken the skies of Seattle with drones. They will need a plan for safety," said Ryan Calo, an expert on robotics, privacy and the law at the University of Washington. "But I see no reason why this application won't fly."

"We'll be ready to enter commercial operations as soon as the necessary regulations are in place," Amazon said Sunday. "Safety will be our top priority, and our vehicles will be built with multiple redundancies and designed to commercial aviation standards."

No news from Amazon or Bezos on the upcharge for drone service.


Wow, what next? Will Amazon Prime Air really "fly?" Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button (for email) or section (for web form) below.



Recent Feedback

Like I posted on Facebook, I think Amazon's onto something. For an extra fee, Amazon could program the drone to sing "Happy Birthday" or some other little ditty when it delivers the product.


Andy Murphy
8-1 International
Dec, 03 2013

While I can appreciate the humor in response to the “delivery drone”; I find these responses quite ironic in this “got to have it now world” here in the United States. The fact is that this speed is in response to the “emotional" needs of the customer. There is nothing rational about it, but perception is reality.
As for a rational comment, it will come. It is only a matter of time related to the legal and regulatory guidelines to be determined in Washington (that WILL take time). It is a matter of regulating another mode of transportation. After all, it is just air freight that will need to move on common carrier, not a retailer service offering.

Eugene V.Nusekabel
Transportation Manager
CCSMP Member
Dec, 11 2013