What have Amazon's drones done for you lately?

Reexamining Jeff Bezos' customer service fascination in the face of a looming army of delivery drones.

At Amazon, the customer always, always, always comes first. Getting people stuff fast and friction-free is what they're all about.

They are the company designed for the society with Attention Deficit Disorder, the short attention span, where the "Me" Generation meets the "I Want it Now" cadre. Point, click, consume.

It was revealed recently that Amazon has a secret R&D lab where it is experimenting with a new generation of drones that can bring your order directly to your door — no delivery people, no highways, just swarms of high-tech mechanical bugs filling the air to cater to your every whim.

And you thought one virtue of life in Seattle was no mosquitoes.

But Jeff Bezos wants to focus on customer satisfaction. It matters not that his drone air force would send clouds of noisy, intrusive, unmanned helicopters through the skies so that you can have that DVD  of "Game of Thrones" you really need right now.

I imagine squadrons with all the charm of flying electric lawnmowers or jet skis whizzing along at low altitude to plop a package right at your doorstep. Forget what the rest of us want. The swarms will make Amazon's customers happy.

The rest of us, we can just enjoy the noise. And the view. And occasional slicing of limbs caused by rapidly rotating blades showing up unexpectedly at your mailbox.

But Amazon needs to push the dronevelope further.

Bezos has said, "The best customer service is if the customer doesn't need to call you, doesn't need to talk to you. It just works." (That used to be called magical thinking.)

Pointing and clicking is so labor intensive. Can't Amazon please develop mind-reading software? Or at least link into the NSA database so it can learn our every whim without us having to lift a finger to flick on an app?

For example, lots of people have had new Weber grills delivered by Amazon recently. It's summer, salmon season and we've been having some hot weather. There's just one problem: Barbeque cravings wait for no delivery man.

It's all worth it to get the grill you ordered yesterday today. Or maybe soon, same-day service. Or same-hour. Or minute. Or before-you-even-thought-about-it.

For another thing, the barbecue grills my acquaintances purchased have required assembly. If you want to separate Amazon from, say IKEA, best to build a drone big enough to drop an assembled grill on a deck.

But why stop at that? Why not deliver a barbecue that's already fired-up? One where the coals are not just lit but already white-hot and ready for that slab of steak or salmon — or the dreaded over-sized zucchini your neighbor will undoubtedly bring from their local P-Patch.

In fact, why not deliver the food to order already cooking on the grill? Just swing a drone over the Copper River or Black Angus country and whisk that King or slab of beef to a hungry market.

Mr. Bezos, I want my rib-eye steak medium rare and marinated in Pickapeppa sauce, sent by Drone Prime with a six pack of Rainier. And non-GMO potato chips. And a recyclable garbage sack for the zucchini would be nice. And maybe some lightly-singed Tofu Pups for the family vegans. But I'm sure you knew that would be my order already, because I just thought of it.

Anyone can put together a flock of drones, but can Amazon really deliver what we want, when we want it, cooked the way we want it? If not, they're slacking.

Amazon's assuming its customers like to cook, clean, and host hungry friends. It's assuming we're willing to put up with having to lift a barbecue fork to poke a flank of something we're likely to char beyond recognition.  Not so. Amazon's complete Summer Barbecue Drone Service would change the world.

If Amazon really cared about us customers, it'd solve all our grill problems, including the ones that extend beyond the coals or propane tanks of the mighty Weber.

Amazon, you are not even close to getting this right yet. Hone in, focus, work harder to break down the barrier between instant and gratification.

Knute Berger is Mossback, Crosscut's chief Northwest native. He also writes the monthly Grey Matters column for Seattle magazine and is a weekly Friday guest on Weekday on KUOW-FM (94.9). His newest book is Pugetopolis: A Mossback Takes On Growth Addicts, Weather Wimps, and the Myth of Seattle Nice, published by Sasquatch Books. In 2011, he was named Writer-in-Residence at the Space Needle and is author of Space Needle, The Spirit of Seattle (2012), the official 50th anniversary history of the tower. You can e-mail him at mossback@crosscut.com.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Jul 24, 6:52 a.m. Inappropriate

Hyperbole aside, something like this could be useful for places that aren't well-served by delivery trucks or even roads. I doubt that it would be effective in an urban environment where there are already a ton of delivery options. But for delivering food to a place on the other side of a washed out bridge? Or to someone stuck in their home in the Gorge outside of Portland because of one of their all-too-common ice storms?

I doubt that we'll see a thousand of these things flying over the city, but why waste the fuel and energy to send a delivery truck down a dusty road outside of Othello to deliver a package to the one person in a 50 mile radius who is getting anything that day when a drone could take it from a distribution center in Spokane or Moses Lake? Why not find a more efficient delivery method?

talisker

Posted Thu, Jul 24, 7:32 a.m. Inappropriate

"so that you can have that DVD of "Game of Thrones" you really need right now."

Errr, we stream that through FireTV. Technology didn't stop & start in Seattle with the The Bubbleator Knute.

Simon

Posted Thu, Jul 24, 8:14 a.m. Inappropriate

Are drones greener than delivery trucks? Can drones help save the Athabasca Glacier? The world?

BlueLight

Posted Thu, Jul 24, 8:58 a.m. Inappropriate

Simon: Game of Thrones home video sales have broken records and sales have increased with the seasons. It's best for binge viewing. Yes, I watch it streaming, but lots and lots and lots of folks don't.

http://variety.com/2014/film/news/games-of-thrones-season-3-slays-home-video-sales-1201122008/

Posted Thu, Jul 24, 9:08 a.m. Inappropriate

Bluelight: I'm nto sure the Athabasca Galcier need saving since the "free market" has determined it can't compete in a warmer world. Still, it's a good question. Are drones better than UPS trucks? Part would depend on the scale, I suppose. Forbes had an interesting piece on the challenges of Amazon drone deliveries:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelwolf/2013/12/02/heres-why-amazon-drone-package-delivery-may-never-happen/

Quote

"Amazon ships a lot of packages, in case you didn’t already know. At peak last year, Amazon sold 306 items per second, which is about 26 million per day. While much of these is digital goods, if we figure if Amazon ships just one tenth of this 26 million – 2.5 million – per day in physical product form, and also figure half of those would be delivered by drone, that’s over 1.2 million drone flights a day. If an average drone can deliver 1 package per hour, that translates to a fleet of 50 thousand drones. That could mean 100 thousand drone flights over New York City on a busy day. That’s a lot of drones in the skies. Would the government, security officials, and civilians who like to look upward and not see the sky dotted with buzzing octocopters allow such a thing?"

Posted Thu, Jul 24, 9:32 a.m. Inappropriate

But cities are well served by trucks already, and drones will never be more efficient than delivery trucks for the number of packages being delivered in dense urban areas.

But they do make some sense in areas where there may only be one delivery at the end of a long road that takes an hour to drive. There's no reason to use a drone in Seattle, but delivering to a remote home 20 miles down a dirt track in Montana? It absolutely makes sense. A drone can make the trip a lot faster than a truck and you don't have to pay a driver for an hour or two to drive a box to the end of a long road.

talisker

Posted Fri, Jul 25, 9:36 a.m. Inappropriate

In case you didn't know, Amazon and USP don't send a truck down those long rual roads. They do "injectin shipping" where by they drop the box off at the local USPS sorting station and the USPS makes the drive.

So are you suggesting that rual mail delivery be done by "drones?"...

GaryP

Posted Thu, Jul 24, 9:35 a.m. Inappropriate

Thanks, Knute. I don't want a sky full of drones, either. However, the question remains: which is greener? Delivery by drone or delivery by truck? If the answer is "drones" doesn't the need to limit greenhouse gasses trump our desires for aesthetically pleasing skies?

BlueLight

Posted Thu, Jul 24, 9:27 a.m. Inappropriate

Glad to see there's another Pickapeppa fan in town!

Posted Thu, Jul 24, 12:31 p.m. Inappropriate

How long would it take before some yay-hoo spies an Amadrone delivering to a neighbor and decides to throw a blanket over it and haul it to his garage for dismantling? Will there be laws written concerning drone interference?

By the bye, my son tried Amazon grocery delivery one time, three years ago. The bins are still sitting in his garage.

JimBow

Posted Thu, Jul 24, 6:03 p.m. Inappropriate

Once again, Knute drones on and on.

Posted Fri, Jul 25, 9:24 a.m. Inappropriate

Drone on dude!

Posted Tue, Jul 29, 9:42 p.m. Inappropriate

One of the obvious flaws to this stupid scheme from Jeff Bezos, who seriously needs some mental counselling if he's serious about this. Odds are, he knows this is a stupid idea and he's just eating up the publicity. Delivery by air is ALWAYS more expensive than delivery by ground. Just like air shipping freight is more expensive than ground delivery. Why? Because lifting stuff into the air takes LOTS more energy than rolling it along the ground.

The only drone that is going to part of Amazon's permanent fleet is Jeff Bezo's big mouth.

Posted Tue, Jul 29, 9:44 p.m. Inappropriate

JimBow -

You hit the nail on the head. Let's say these drones make it to their destinations. Most of them aren't going to make it back because like JimBow say, you just toss a blanket over them and that's the end of that drone. At that point, it becomes a writeoff to Amazon. It's not like a cop is going to show up at your door asking if you've seen a drone.

End of Story. This is Amazon's MICROSOFT BOB moment.

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