Amazon has revealed its latest airborne delivery technology. Soon, it says, drones will be as commonplace as delivery trucks. Is the need for instant gratification hurting society?
Imagine the situation, says Jeremy Clarkson in a new promotional video by the gargantuan online retailer, Amazon. It’s your daughter Millie’s big football game, but your dog Stuart has chewed one of her boots. Not to worry — you can order a new pair and have it delivered to your house within half an hour by Prime Air, Amazon’s drone delivery service. ‘And balance is restored to the universe,’ Clarkson concludes, not without some sarcasm.
The video reveals, for the first time, technology which has been in development since Amazon first announced its plans to introduce a drone service exactly two years ago. The device is an ‘octocopter hybrid’, meaning it uses eight propellers to rise up from the ground, and wings and a ‘pusher motor’ to fly horizontally like a plane.
Amazon claims that the drones have built-in ‘detect and avoid’ sensors to prevent accidental collisions, and it hopes to make use of the mostly empty airspace between 200 and 400ft above the ground.
Amazon’s prototype delivery drone can travel for 15 miles at up to 60mph.
The benefits are clear: near-instant access to the company’s vast selection of products will be more convenient for customers’ busy lives. Meanwhile — although other companies, including Google, are investing in similar technology — Amazon will have a clear edge over its competitors. When you can choose, buy and receive your purchases in under half an hour without leaving your house, why would you order from anywhere else?
‘We like to pioneer, we like to explore, we like to go down dark alleys and see what’s on the other side,’ explained CEO Jeff Bezos two years ago.
But author Paul Roberts has warned that the instant gratification of new technologies is hurting society. It makes people impatient, less empathetic and encourages us to ‘remain in a state of permanent childhood’.
I want it now
Delaying gratification is what teaches us to be better people, argues Roberts. It allows us to think about how much we really want something, overcome challenges to get it, and therefore stay satisfied for longer. As companies get better at giving us what we want, we become increasingly self-absorbed. Amazon’s new drones could create all sorts of safety problems — but our desire for faster, more personalised services makes us blind to their effects.
Yet society cannot remain static, insist CEOs like Bezos. The quest for efficiency has been one of humanity’s most productive forces: it brought farming methods which freed us from the fields, and communication systems which helped us to share our knowledge. Amazon’s drones might even help the environment by reducing the number of delivery vans on the roads. Progress may be scary, but it drives humanity forwards; in the end it changes us for the better.
The are legal obstacles to overcome — in the USA, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has banned the use of personal drones beyond a pilot’s line of vision. However, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has been more receptive, and as suggested introducing ‘corridors’ of airspace. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is optimistic: ‘One day Prime Air deliveries will be as common as seeing a mail truck.’
The potential is huge. Drones are already being used to capture difficult aerial photographs, and this could help conservationists monitor changes in wildlife and the environment. They could also be used in developing nations, to provide internet access or transport medical supplies to remote areas and disaster zones.