Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Columns

December 11, 2013

House of Burgess: Amazon's flying delivery robots

Bezos premieres 'Amazon Prime Air'

In a Dec. 1 “60 Minutes” piece on CBS — charitably labeled an Amazon.com “infomercial” by Slate’s Konstantin Kakeas Dec. 2 — CEO Jeff Bezos gave Charlie Rose an exclusive look at what’s next for the company, which had $61 billion in revenue in 2012.

“These are ‘octocopters,’” said Bezos near the end of the segment, as he showed a saucer-eyed Rose a table of “autonomous” black, toddler-sized contraptions.

“These are effectively drones, but there’s no reason that they can’t be used as delivery vehicles. … Half-hour delivery, and we can carry objects, we think, up to five pounds, which covers 86 percent of the items that we deliver. … These generations of vehicles, it could be a 10-mile radius from a fulfillment center. So, in urban areas, you could actually cover very significant portions of the population.”

To illustrate the program — Amazon Prime Air — Bezos then played a demonstration video for Rose. In the clip — which now has 13 million YouTube views — a male customer uses a tablet to order a Skate Tool. He checks out by tapping on a yellow “Prime Air 30 minute delivery” button.

Cut to the warehouse, where the Skate Tool is lovingly placed into a similarly yellow box. The container is then sent gently careening down a rolling conveyor. At the end is what looks like a miniature outdoor propane grill.

Its four thin legs are now squat over the banana-colored package. It latches on to the sides of the box and proceeds to buzz out the side of the loading dock, plunging into the crisp blue sky.

Sounding like an agitated hornet swarm, we follow the accursed machine through the air and across lush green hills. Finally, it reaches the front steps of a gigantic waterfront estate.

The drone, soon to be relieved of its Skate Tool, lowers itself to the ground. The male customer waits until it leaves to exit his front door and retrieve his purchase, a young boy hovering in the doorway.

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