Droning on about drones

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A few weeks ago, 60 Minutes aired a piece that unveiled some pretty cutting-edge package delivery technology from Amazon: a delivery drone.

Since then, the Internet (and my Facebook newsfeed) has been lit ablaze by people who, for whatever reason, fear this kind of technology.

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Several million people watched the news segment the night it aired, but it would appear less than 20 actually listened to it. 

Many of the comments I’ve seen revolve around the company using the a “military-like” technology in the private sector. I guess they’re completely overlooking that the Amazon delivery “drone” is more like a child’s Christmas present than an Army death-strike machine. 

Here’s this idiotic piece from the Chicago Defender – whatever that is. drone

The author, obviously a proponent of FedEx’s human-supported delivery services, writes, “When a FedEx employee comes to your house with a package, you sign for it, and they leave. They cannot record any information about you other than your signature and maybe that you wear funny pajamas during the afternoon when you came to the door. But a drone flying to your home to deliver a book, or a pair of headphones or pants is not simply a mechanical passenger pigeon mindlessly dropping off packages. Drones are piloted by men and women, drones have cameras, drones can record what you say, what your home looks like, your car, your clothing anything about you…”

Any delivery person (FedEx or otherwise) carrying a smartphone has a camera, can record anything you say, what your home looks like, your car, your clothes and pretty much anything else. 

The author, Dr. Jason Johnson – A DOCTOR?!?! – seems mortified at the possibility that Amazon will use all of this information to its advantage, possibly even sell it. I have no idea why XZY company would care that my house is red brick or my truck is a red Ford (that information’s on the house, guys).

Also, there’s this new thing called the Internet where I can get pretty much all of this information if I look hard enough. 

Is Dr. Johnson really that worried about the drone snapping pictures of him in his PJs? Who wears their pajamas in the middle of the day anyway? Unless you take a delivery at 6 a.m., there’s no excuse to still be in your pajamas. 

And why would anyone care if the drone could record what you say? Who talks to a flying piece of plastic? If you’re the kind of person who carries on a conversation with an inanimate object, you’re the kind of person I want being recorded by a drone. 

Dr. Johnson, whose doctorate is likely not in Applied Military Warfare Technologies, desperately tries to link this technology to that which is used by the military to spy on or, ultimately, bomb terrorists. 

I’m not privy to classified military documents, but I think most military drones are capable of carrying a warhead weighing more than 5 pounds further than 10 miles. To put this in perspective, Amazon’s drone couldn’t even “bomb” Seattle city limits with anything heavier than a bag of sugar. 

The technology may be similar (it’s also similar to an Air Hog), but the vehicle itself is not remotely close. 

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“I’m hard pressed to see how integrating this technology into commercial life won’t make it even easier for corporations and the government to keep tabs on private citizen activity that is ostensibly none of their business,” he writes.

It’s pretty obvious, Dr. Johnson. You’re simply not that interesting. 

The fact is, these drones are never likely be a major part of any delivery service’s fleet; FedEx, Amazon, UPS or anyone else. They simply can’t carry enough weight, they can’t carry enough cargo and they can’t go far enough.

Sure, they can improve as newer generations develop, but how many generations away do you think we are from a delivery drone that can drop off a 35-inch plasma television? Fifteen? Maybe more? 

Amazon says their statistics show that 80 percent of the boxes they send out have a weight the drone could carry. Now, factor in the homes within drone’s operating radius of the distribution centers. Now factor in how many of those homes actually ordered something from Amazon. My uneducated guess is an army of delivery drones would be able to make 100 deliveries (roughly 3 per day) or fewer a month nationwide. And I think I’m being generous at 100. 

They’re cute. It’s a way for Amazon to flex a little ingenuity muscle and get some headlines, but delivery drones are little more than a child’s toy for an über wealthy company like Amazon to parade in front of their stockholders. 

They may evolve to become a better way to deliver small packages in a densely populated area, but they’ll likely never be anything more than that. Until then, the government will have to continue to spy on you through your cell phone records, Google Earth and red light cameras.