Reclusive Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos laid out a drone-dominated future on CBS’ “60 Minutes” Sun night, generating a lot of buzz about a fleet of robotic drones that will someday fly around like a swarm of sewer rat-sized bumble bees, delivering everything from books to clothes to pizza to Obamacare.
To be sure, the media-fueled drone mania on the Internet and cable news this week reminds us of one simple truth: (1) Robots are cool; (2) outside-the-box thinking always gets attention; and (3) drones know where you and your family lives. And they will find you.
Bezos’ evil plan to bring about an Android Apocalypse notwithstanding, the drones are undoubtedly exciting. But like any new cable technology that “changes everything,” that excitement lasts until someone tries to navigate 46,214 VOD choices on a clunky DCT-2000 set top. Then the complaints begin. And the pressure to improve the product. And the frustration. And eventually—seemingly eons later—we get something incredibly cool like Comcast’s X1/X2 or Cox’s Contour. But it’s always an arduous journey. Our path toward global drone worship will be equally difficult. Here are a few points to keep in mind.
1. Jokesters Abound – Kids, teenagers and adults who act like kids and teenagers are everywhere. So what fun it will be for the maturity challenged to play endless drone games to amuse themselves. How about Capture the Drone with a Fishing Net? Or Steal the Amazon Booty When the Drone Lands? Or Wedge a Lit M-80 Firecracker into the Drone Fuselage as It’s Returning to the Amazon Death Star? But while this could create hours of fun for the whole family, Bezos may want to factor in a high drone casualty rate into his business model.
2. Urban Challenges – It’s hard to imagine how drones will deliver to apartments and condos, which make up huge swaths of every major city and represent a large portion of Amazon’s customer base. Do they hover outside people’s windows until someone sticks their hand out to grab the package? Do they land on the building’s roof? And if you think the various hijinks listed in #1 are a possibility in the burbs, multiply those problems by 100 in the cities where there are more people, more man-made obstacles and more potential for mischief.
3. Weather – Does anyone think a drone with the aviation power of a toy airplane could withstand wind gusts, rain, sleet, snow, thunderstorms or other shifting weather patterns? Probably not. That means Amazon will have to constantly monitor the weather and ground drones accordingly—getting the info to buyers that their drone pal won’t be arriving within the half hour. People, unable to access that must-have item they just bought AT THE EXACT MOMENT THEY WANT IT, will naturally riot and begin their own version of “The Purge,” leading to the downfall of the government and installation of a totalitarian regime. But that’s just the price we pay for convenience.
4. Injuries – If we imagine a future in which thousands of these drones fly around delivering everything from iPads to toilet paper, we have to accept that some of them will simply malfunction, falling out of the sky and crash landing on unsuspecting pedestrians. Granted, toilet paper could cushion the fall. But many such mishaps could result in injuries and lawsuits, not to mention a lot of freaked out people running down the street trying to detach a wayward drone from their scalp as toilet paper unfurls behind them. Of course, it’s good to know that if a drone whizzing past a motorist caused a traffic accident, at least the Geico lizard could hitch a ride on another drone and get to the scene within 30 minutes.
5. Birds – Watching the drone lovefest on cable news this week raises an important question. If humans think these drones are sexy, what about the birds? They’ve spent thousands of years only able to date each other, and now this shiny robot starts hovering around the nest, carrying gifts, looking all shiny and seductively spinning those little helicopter blades. It’s only a matter of time before birds start mating with drones, creating cyborg offspring that destroy us all. Thanks, Bezos!
Anyway, I’ve droned on long enough… peace out.