Drone deliveries for PC components? Don’t be so sure

PCR editor Dominic Sacco isn’t convinced Amazon’s far-fetched initiative will work in our industry.

Amazon has already begun testing outdoor drone deliveries near its Cambridge HQ, according to TechWeekEurope.

An air traffic alert states that unmanned aerial vehicle flights will be taking place until October 5th South East of Cambridge.

And Amazon’s UK drone delivery operations boss Daniel Buchmueller said last week: "We have development centres right here in the UK, in the United States, in Austria and in Israel.These are places where we have dedicated indoor facilities, but we also have outdoor testing facilities. In fact, our largest outdoor facility is right here in the UK."

The drones are unmanned vehicles that can travel for 15 miles, reach heights of 400ft and speeds of more than 50mph. The idea is that Amazon customers will be able to order items online and receive their delivery via drone, in less than 30 minutes.

Last year, Amazon showed off its Amazon Prime Air drone deliveries in greater detail, in a video hosted by Jeremy Clarkson.

So, drone deliveries are the future of retail and e-commerce, right? Amazon is going to wipe out all of its remaining rivals in one fell swoop, correct?

I’m not so sure.

At least, perhaps not in our industry.

It’s never been easier for consumer to order PC components – a specific part or accessory – online. 

The likes of Ebuyer, Overclockers and Amazon can ship you a piece of RAM, a CPU or a new mouse, for example, within a day or two. Or you can grab one in-store from the likes of Maplin or Currys/PC World.

But would you trust one of those drones to deliver a high-end graphics card to your door? What if it falls out of the sky? What if it hits something along the way and permanently damages the item? 

What if someone shoots the damn thing down with an air rifle, or flies another drone into it, then loots its contents? 

What happens if it lands outside a home but the owner is away? Can someone else open it?

You might think I’m being over the top, but these are all things that could realistically happen – and Amazon should be taking them into account.

I’m not sure I’d be comfortable ordering a £200 motherboard by drone. If my PC broke and I desperately needed a replacement part within 24 hours, personally I’d head to Maplin or my local independent PC store, or go for next-day delivery online. And I’m sure it will be the same for many of your customers.

What if I wanted to buy a complete desktop PC system, or a case? It seems that drones will only be able to deliver small items to begin with (weighing less than five pounds), like games or football boots, as demonstrated in Clarkson’s video. But who on Earth buys boxed PC games these days?

Apparently 86 per cent of orders shipped by Amazon weigh less than five pounds, so the etailer could be on to a winner here.

Don’t get me wrong: I think the idea of delivery drones is novel and innovative. But I’m not sure it’s going to take-off yet (ahem). 

Amazon says its drones feature ‘sense and avoid’ technology, to avoid birds, buildings and… people on jet packs, I suppose. But can we trust technology like this, especially when the first fatal driverless car accident occured after the car seemingly failed to detect a truck while on autopilot?

The other thing to consider with this, and the rise of robotics in general, is what does it mean for jobs (in this case, the poor old postman)? Unemployment is already a major problem in certain parts of the world, and I’m not sure I’d be willing to trade a large number of jobs for a bit of extra online shopping convenience.

Amazon also haven’t revealed how much drone deliveries would cost.

According to ARK Investment Management, Amazon would be able to charge $1 to have a drone deliver a package in 30 minutes or less. 

But lot of questions remain around these kind of deliveries, as outlined in this article, and I’m sure it will give Amazon – and PC vendors and disties – serious food for thought.

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