Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Amazon's delivery drones: Future of deliveries?

File:Carl Spitzweg 029.jpg
Women awaiting delivery of children by storks [painting by Carl Spitzweg]

Some of us still fancy children being delivered to the parents by storks [popularized by Looney Tunes], and wanting mothers would leave sweets by the windows as a message (or an order) for storks to deliver a child. Wait a minute! How does this relate to Amazon? The answer lies in the new R&D initiative of Amazon that will employ drones to deliver packages (upto 5 lbs.) to customers living within a certain proximity to their warehouse. [link to wall street article]

Even though the Amazon drones project is still in R&D stage, and it might be too early to even speculate about the future of deliveries and its impact on big-time logistics players such as UPS, USPS, and Fedex, it is safe to say that reducing the lead time to customers is certainly on the minds of e-retailers. Conventional transportation by road and by air mail has been improved over the years but a paradigm shift still awaits the industry where overnight shipping can be changed to next 30 minutes of ordering.

Questions facing drones as future leaders of deliveries are:
  • Working cost of using a drone compared to using a delivery man?
    • If the cost of keeping a drone is relatively high compared to keeping a delivery man who can drive to nearby customers from warehouse on demand maintaining the shipping time of 30 minutes. What will be the benefit of using a drone?
  • Approval from federal aviation authority?
    • The drones shown so far are noisy, fly at certain elevations and will definitely need an approval from FAA for safety and security.
  • Staffing of drones at a warehouse?
    •  Sporadic delivery schedules coupled with a short lead time will make the scheduling and recruitment of drones difficult specially for Amazon who has a very high service level for deliveries
  • Delivery confirmation, package safety and theft?
    • With human interaction package confirmation, safety and theft and easier to track. What will be the new technologies that will replace the existing ones?
I will wait for answers to these questions as well as my first delivery by drones in the coming future!

Update: UPS is also speculated to be researching on its own delivery drones. [link]

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