Wednesday, February 22, 2017

We’re gonna need a lot of bubble wrap

Amazon wants to deliver by parachute. Yup. That’s what they've proposed in a patent application with a little sketch that shows the path of a parachute gently lowering a package to the ground from a drone.

The description says the parachute, which includes a little fan, can be guided from the drone to avoid stuff like trees and wires. It will be so accurate it can steer the parachute to an apartment building terrace.

You can't do that with a Peterbilt 389 and a 53-foot Great Dane – at least not yet – but don't worry. You won't be in competition with Amazon's parachute division. Their drones can only handle 5-pound packages – at least right now.

Yeah, I’m hedging. I laughed at the drone idea when it first leaked in 2013. Now these guys are starting to scare me.



Amazon has been building massive distribution centers and hiring van drivers for local deliveries. No worries there. But a couple of years ago, Amazon began buying its own dry van trailers. Then they leased 40 big jet liners, and reports say they'll be going into the logistics business. If that happens, and it probably will, we'll soon be doing business with Amazon brokerage. Maybe that should make us feel good, but for some reason that doesn’t work for me.
Don’t forget, this is the company that started in 1994 selling books and 20 years later was selling virtually everything. CEO Jeff Bezos named it Amazon after the biggest river in the world; friends had to talk him out of naming it Relentless.com.

Relentless sure describes Amazon. That’s the way they are about this whole drone business. Last year they patented the concept of a hovering warehouse in the sky that would load and dispatch delivery drones. Damn thing is supposed to hang around at about 45,000 feet, above where most domestic airliners fly.

In December Amazon launched an ongoing test facility in England where they’re delivering by drone on a limited but regular basis. What they said was the world’s first commercial drone delivery consisted of a TV remote and a bag of popcorn.

But it wasn’t the first, says 7-Eleven. Yes, we’re talking about the convenience store people whose first commercial drone delivery preceded Amazon’s by two weeks, they claim. The package in 7-Eleven’s momentous event contained a chicken sandwich.

Meanwhile, UPS just demonstrated a drone that emerges from the top of a brown UPS package wagon and flies off to make a delivery while the truck continues on its route. The drone catches up and finds the truck wherever it has gone.

Google is having less luck with its drone program. A former employee told The Wall Street Journal the Google drone “repeatedly crashed, wandered off, lost power, or tried to land in trees.”

And now there’s this Amazon parachute thing. You have to wonder if we’ll pay a deposit for every parachute, or will it be a free parachute with every delivery?

Next, I suppose, will be Amazon Catapult Service. Whatever happens, buy stock in bubble wrap.