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OM in the News: The Popcorn Arrives Via Amazon Drone

December 17, 2016
Drone used to make Amazon's first commercial delivery, in England

Drone used to make Amazon’s first commercial delivery, in England

This week, Amazon made its first commercial drone delivery, to an Amazon shopper in Cambridgeshire, England, a major step forward in its experiments with automated shipments. The flight — to deliver an Amazon Fire device and popcorn to a customer — took off from a nearby Amazon warehouse and lasted 13 minutes, covering 2 miles.

The company says it wants to expand the number of consumers who could participate in the trial to dozens in the coming months, eventually allowing hundreds to use the drone service. The start of customer trials for the drone delivery service, which Amazon calls Prime Air, is a milestone for a technology that could eventually automate an important part of Amazon’s business.

The advent of widespread drone deliveries, even if technically possible, would take years, and regulators from the U.S. and elsewhere could block the plans. “But even if drones end up handling only a small portion of Amazon’s overall deliveries, the implications could be far-reaching,” writes The New York Times (Dec. 15, 2016). The company, for instance, might not need as many truck drivers or other costly logistical operations. Drones could also have environmental benefits, by reducing reliance on pollution-belching vehicles. The biggest boon may be to customers, who could be able to receive their orders more quickly.

In England, Amazon has been allowed to fly drones without a human pilot at the controls, navigating to destinations solely by GPS. The company says it has developed “sense-and-avoid” technology to help the machines fly around towers, birds and other obstructions.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. What are the limitations of drone use for deliveries?
  2. Why is Amazon pursuing the drone approach?
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