February 22, 2024

Jeff Bezos says Amazon drones will bring toothpaste and cat food to American homes within four or five years. That was nearly nine years ago. oops.

this week, Amazon says It plans to begin its first drone deliveries in the US sometime in 2022, perhaps in a town in California.

Today’s newsletter addresses two questions: How long does drone delivery take? Are they better than other ways to get goods delivered to our door?

Bottom line: For the foreseeable future, under certain conditions, drone deliveries will facilitate a handful of products in limited locations. But due to technical and financial constraints, drones are unlikely to be the future of mass package delivery.

Drone delivery is a major improvement for certain tasks, such as delivering medicines to people in remote areas. But it’s not nearly as ambitious as the drone dream that Bezos and others are pitching to the public.

Why are drones so difficult?

Microplanes that operate unmanned face two major obstacles: the technology is complex, and the government requires a lot of red tape—often for good reason. (In the U.S., regulatory issues have largely been resolved.)

Dan Patt, a seasoned drone engineer and a senior fellow in the Hudson Institute research group, said he and I could build us in a garage for less than $5,000 in about a week. Own delivery drone. The basics are not that difficult.

But the real world is infinitely complex, and drones can’t handle it. At high speeds, drones must accurately “see” and navigate around buildings, power lines, trees, other aircraft and people before they can land on the ground or deliver packages down from a height. GPS could fail in an instant and crash the drone. There is little room for error.

“It was really easy to solve the first part of the problem,” Pat said. “It’s really hard to solve the whole problem to make drone delivery fully robust.”

The typical technician’s approach is to think smaller, which means confining drones to relatively simple environments.Startup Zipline focuses on delivery using drones Provide blood and medical supplies to health care centers Driving is difficult in the relatively scattered regions of Rwanda and Ghana. The typical suburban or urban is more complex and vehicle delivery is the better option. (In Rockford, Calif., Amazon plans to deliver the drones for the first time in the U.S., where several thousand people live in mostly scattered households.)

It’s still an incredible achievement, and over time drones have become more and more capable of other types of settings.

The thornier issue, Pat said, is that drone deliveries may not make economic sense in most cases. Stuffing another package on a UPS delivery truck is cheap. But drones can’t carry that much. They can’t stop many times in one flight. People and vehicles still need to bring cat food and toothpaste to wherever the drone takes off.

“I think it’s a small market, small concept, niche use for the next 10 years,” Pat said. “It’s not going to scale to replace everything.” Some people working on drones are more optimistic than Pat, but we’re seeing a similar lack of optimism in other areas.

Overpromising and underdelivering

The parallels between drones and driverless cars keep popping up in my mind. Drone technologists told me that, as with self-driving cars, they misjudged the challenges and overestimated the potential of computer-driven cars.

Reliable drone deliveries and driverless cars are great ideas, but they may never be as widespread as technologists imagine.

We keep making the same mistakes with automation technology.For decades, technologists have been saying self-driving car, computers that reason like humans and robotic factory workers will soon be ubiquitous and better than ever. We would like to believe them. Disappointment begins when the vision does not materialize.

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Brian X. Chena consumer tech columnist for The New York Times, suggests ways to make our (non-drone delivery) online shopping more gentle on the planet.

  • Resist instant gratification. If you don’t need to buy the item right away, it’s best to choose the slowest shipping time. Next-day or same-day delivery often means parcel companies opt for speed over efficiency – more air flights and more miles driven can lead to pollution.

  • Use less cardboard. There’s an option called Amazon Day Delivery that lets people choose specific days of the week and combine multiple orders into a single drop off. These items also come in fewer boxes. Additionally, for some items, Amazon offers “frustration-free packaging,” which eliminates some unnecessary packaging. Choosing any of these options will reduce your cardboard and plastic consumption.

  • When practical, buy second-hand. For many Amazon listings, there is an option to buy used products. For many items, from cast iron cookware to screwdrivers, it makes perfect sense to buy something that was used before returning it. You’re giving the product a second life and saving yourself a few bucks.

  • A former video producer at Google is suing the company, claiming he was fired after complaining about the influence of a religious sect at work. Cade Metz and Dai Wakabayashi unravel a strange tale of software, winemaking, and higher consciousness.

  • In the world of ransomware bargaining: Bloomberg News described the work Negotiators dealing with criminals lock down an organization’s computer systems until they get paid. (Subscription may be required.)

  • During a crypto market crash, the crypto workplace crashes. My colleagues Ryan Mac and David Yaffe-Bellany reported on the boss of a cryptocurrency company who told employees to quit if they disagreed with him on issues such as female intelligence and gender identity.

Bird is is one robin imitating car sirens, sirens and sirens cell phone.

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