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Amazon’s Jeff Bezos Floats an Idea of Delivering by Drone

Although I’ve heard the “In five years … ” line dozens of times about innovations like drone delivery, I wouldn’t bet against this. Meantime, let's not moan about the drone.

December 2, 2013

Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, floated an interesting trial balloon on "60 Minutes."

I understand all the chuckles and “Are you kidding me’s?” floating around cyberspace regarding Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos’ revelation on “60 Minutes” that in the next five years people will be able to order goods and have them delivered in 30 minutes or less — by way of drone.

Or should that be, “buy way of drone”?

Anyway, it does seem a little pie-in-the-sky or perhaps a publicity stunt to generate a buzz for Cyber Monday, but it also sounds pretty cool to me. According to Bezos, the drones, which he calls “octocopters,” will be able to deliver packages that are 5 pounds or less up to 10 miles.

So will this idea fly?

I remember back in college in the early ’90s when we talked about a “newspaper” that could be transmitted into some sort of electronic device and be updated daily or even every minute when news breaks. My eyes rolled so many times that I think they modeled the Yahoo IM rolling-eyes smiley on my dumbfounded expression.

It seemed pretty far-fetched to me then, but with the explosion of tablets onto the marketplace, it is now a reality. And in the ’60s, the only portable phone that I am aware of was Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone, while today mobile phones are as common as shoes on feet.

Does Amazon’s drone service have the wings to fly? I think it might.

Yes, there are logistics to work out: Will the FAA allow these devices to fly through the skies? How are you going to guarantee they don’t fly through people’s windows or crash when the weather gets rough? What happens when junior takes aim at them with a paint gun? And people will surely go on about Big Brother, but if those details get worked out somehow — and granted these are no small questions to be answered — imagine the possibilities.

Beyond the consumer-goods realm, envision the potential for business.

Remember that “Brady Bunch” episode, “Call Me Irresponsible,” where Greg Brady wants to buy a new car, so he gets a job working for his dad making deliveries? Of course, he loses the blueprints on his first and second attempts and gets fired. People aren't always reliable, although, to be fair, technology isn’t always reliable either. But imagine having to get a contract out quickly. Drone service could really come in handy, especially in cities where bike messengers aren’t omnipresent.

As a journalist, I’ve heard the “In five years … ” line dozens of times regarding out-of-this-world innovations. People like to throw it out to get attention or generate a buzz. And futuristic stuff sounds cool. Am I skeptical about all this? Of course. I think it’s unlikely drones will be flying around delivering packages in five years, but I wouldn’t bet against it in the next decade either. When Bezos turned Amazon into a buy-just-about-anything retailer from a bookseller, people were rolling their eyes, too.

We’ll just have to wait and see if this idea gets off the ground, but, until then, let’s not drown out the drone talk with the prime delivery of pessimism.

James Tehrani is Workforce’s assistant managing editor. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com. Follow Tehrani on Twitter at @WorkforceJames and like his blog on Facebook at “Whatever Works” blog.