I love Amazon. It is so useful and fast, particularly here in the Bay Area where it seems like they can deliver a toothbrush overnight. This time of year Amazon sends a conga line of Fedex, UPS, USPS, and off-brand delivery trucks to my front door with all my Christmas shopping (ordered on the weekend and at night). Now, Amazon has the great idea of using drones to help with delivery.
This morning someone threw an Amazon package over our back fence. It was addressed to someone with our street number but on a different street. This makes some (but, really, not a lot of) sense given the street and address configurations in our neighborhood. This package was from one of the off-brand local services that Amazon employs to get their products delivered quickly. I’m not sure what my obligation to the package is. Reading about the idea that Amazon could use drones to deliver their packages gives me pause. I look out my window in our Bay Area suburb and wonder where the drone would land and wonder if packages would be flung at my front door.
And, because it’s me, I wonder about drone-delivered pizzas. I’m not sure I understand how such a system might work. I can’t think of it in a way that makes a lot of sense.
Restaurants have a large number of delivery hubs that, besides serving as production and delivery launch sites, represent the brand and serve walk-in customers. Amazon has very few delivery hubs and I imagine they are located for the convenience of large volume shipping and storage.
Restaurants have orders tied to specific times of day and combinations of people. Amazon’s orders are more like regular retail orders that aren’t necessarily linked to a specific occasion.
Restaurants have managed to get their employees to provide their own delivery vehicles. Even in other parts of the world, they have used existing transportation systems with bicycles and motorbikes and special backpack containers to maintain the temperature of the food. This is sort of like Amazon making a very favorable arrangement with Uber to use their cars to deliver packages.
The nice thing about cars and motor bikes is that there is a robust infrastructure to support them in terms of fuel, maintenance, parking, and (maybe most importantly) rules and regulations.
Now, what would have to happen for drones to be used to deliver pizzas?
To address parking, fueling, and maintenance there would have to be a central hub from where the vehicles are dispatched to the pickup and delivery points. I would assume that an individual might be able to manage more than one drone at a time.
It would have to cost the restaurant less than it costs to have people use their own vehicles. So, the capital cost of acquiring a fleet of drones to address the delivery needs of an entire marketing area would result in savings in fuel and associated personnel costs that outweigh the capital costs.
There would also have to be a set of regulations to allow a bunch of drones to be flown around urban areas.
OK, so maybe that means that there would be dedicated companies that own and run drones for all sorts of delivery purposes…auto parts, groceries, plumbing supplies to sites, medical supplies, blood tests…anything where there is on-demand need for products. Those companies could take responsibility for the capital investment and the personnel costs. But, the chains would lose control of the customer experience. There are already non-drone services that do this so that’s not too much of a stretch to imagine.
Amazon, I believe, described the drone delivery project as one of the “moon shot” projects. As such, it is as much a thought experiment as it is a working project. As I’m thinking about it, I’m wondering if somebody someday might drop a random pizza from the sky into my backyard. I’d then have a clear sense of my obligation to the pizza.