3 Things That May Keep Amazon Drones from Delivering Your Stuff

Amazone Drone Delivery
AP/Amazon
On Sunday, Amazon.com's (AMZN) Jeff Bezos turned heads with visions of unmanned drones delivering packages in about the same amount of time that it takes to watch a sitcom.

Watching the promotional video is impressive. Someone selects the option to have an order delivered within 30 minutes, and it rolls off the line, then is inserted onto the next available drone, which flies off to deliver the package to its destination.

Unfortunately for folks who like their parcels to arrive as quickly as their pizzas, Prime Air is unlikely to be a reality for shoppers anytime soon. Let's go over a few of the reasons why it may take a long, long time before there's an unmanned aircraft vehicle dropping off a new set of earbuds by your door.

1. It's illegal -- for now.

The FAA does not allow the use of unmanned vehicles for commercial purposes. This may seem to be a temporary stumbling block. Bezos is widely viewed as a visionary, and now he has made delivery drones a topic ripe for revised legislation.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) -- who just happens to head the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee -- will explore the matter early next year. If the flying bots can clear safety and privacy concerns, it could pave the way for regulatory clearance. There are already plans to relax these conditions by 2015, but a lot could happen between now and then. For now, it is simply not allowed.

2. It won't come cheap, even though it could.

Amazon's promotional clip is impressive, but how many drones will it need to satisfy the urges of shoppers who want their goods right away? These are automatons that will have to be able to navigate past suburban power lines and avoid slamming into curious kids or pets as they land on a front porch.

Unmanned drones have been tested as an option to provide relief packages to disaster-ravaged areas, and the reported results showed them to be a far cheaper option than conventional deliveries by truck; but from Amazon, it would more likely be offered as a niche high-end service. In the MIT Technology Review, one MIT professor suggests that Amazon could charge as much as $200 for a five-pound Prime Air delivery.

3. Amazon's bestsellers by 2018 may be digital.

The technology itself isn't a stumbling block. It exists now.

The security risks that some have alluded to are also overblown. Kids won't be shooting at flying drones to grab merchandise. They won't even know that a drone is coming until it's too late, and it would be far easier to just follow a UPS truck around on its route and grab unattended packages off of people's porches. In fact, security should be less of a problem because someone wouldn't be paying a premium for immediate delivery if they weren't there to receive the product.

The real danger to this not happening is that it may not be necessary. Bezos feels that Prime Air could roll out in five years, but what will its orders look like then?

There's a natural weight limit on drone deliveries. An Amazon flying drone isn't going to drop off your new flat screen TV or exercise bike. There are plenty of light yet costly tech gadgets that will still logical items, but don't bet on physical media items being its big sellers.

Amazon should be well aware of this: It has led the charge in replacing CDs, DVDs, books, software, and games with digitally delivered media. In theory, there should be fewer deliveries coming out of Amazon if it nails its goal of being the digital ecosystem of the future.

Yes, consumers will still need to buy the hardware and accessories to enjoy digital media. That's not likely to change in a few years. However, a lot of the media that consumers would naturally want right away may not be around in physical form by the time that Amazon's drones become a reality.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com. Try any of our newsletter services free for 30 days.

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RouteUS66Busload

Remember Jesus mentions that during the last days, you'll see something fall from the skies? Then his 2nd coming is around the corner.

December 06 2013 at 1:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Debbie

Opps, my husband just told me Drone is spelled D-R-O-N-E. Sorry, my bad. But I hope everyone likes the whimsy of my comment!

December 04 2013 at 9:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Debbie

Well what about the pizza delivery dron? What if you don't pay? Does the dron lazer burn the word deadbeat on your door?

December 04 2013 at 9:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
flowkay3

Everyone will have to be wearing helmets if they are walking around -- Bang - ouch my head - what was that?

December 04 2013 at 8:01 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to flowkay3's comment
RouteUS66Busload

Exactly, good thinking!

December 06 2013 at 1:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jrkdds2256

They might get shot down for fun, kind of an impromptu sporting clays

December 04 2013 at 5:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jrkdds2256's comment
RouteUS66Busload

Duck Dynasty will do that too.

December 06 2013 at 1:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
tmlbtb

Just double check to be sure that Vibrator doesn't get air mailed to your Mother's house by accident.

December 04 2013 at 3:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
paulw3tzi

Sorry for the double post

December 04 2013 at 3:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
paulw3tzi

What a dumb idea. With junk like that flying around someone is sure to be killed or maimed. The FAA would be stupid to approve it. The one who thought that one up must have been high on something.

December 04 2013 at 3:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
sam59USN

Housecats, shotguns, power wires.

December 04 2013 at 2:22 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
philaved

It is more likely that Amazon will give every Prime customer a device that will replicate the desired item in there own home such as 3D printing of replacement parts, and other items. The cost savings would be astronomical, eliminating shipping, stocking, picking, transportation to and from and best of all much of the hardware is already in place. The idea of delivery drones is pure folly.

December 04 2013 at 2:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply