Commentary

Amazon Drone Takes 13 Minutes To Deliver Order In Merry U.K.

You know how it is: You’ve got this sudden craving for popcorn and a hankering to stream “Mozart in the Jungle” but the microwave is on the blink and you’re responsible for the kids playing in the den.

We’re not sure that the “ruddy-cheeked customer, identified only as Richard B of Cambridgeshire,” as the Australian Financial Review puts it, shared these exact first-world problems yesterday but he became the first-ever, real-person recipient of an Amazon autonomous drone delivery December 7 when an Amazon quad copter took off from a nearby warehouse and dropped a package containing an Amazon Fire TV and a package of Proper Corn in his rather expansive backyard. 

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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos broke the news with a tweet several hours before joining other tech barons in a meet-up yesterday with President-elect Donald Trump. “First-ever #AmazonPrimeAir customer delivery is in the books,” Bezos thumbed. “13 min — click to delivery.”

Notably, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was not at the meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan, where Trump told the assembled: “I’m here to help you folks do well.” A source says that Sean Spicer, the Republican National Committee’s communications director, bounced Dorsey “in retaliation for reneging on a $5 million emoji deal with the president-elect during the campaign,” writesThe Hill’s Ali Breland

But Spicer tweeted in reply that the charge was “another example of false, reprehensible, pathetic, tabloid faux journalism.” He told MSNBC “that the conference table was only so big,” Nancy Scola reports for Politico. The emoji in question “would have shown, in various renderings, small bags of money being given away or stolen,” Scola writes, and  “would have been offered to users as a replacement for the hashtag #CrookedHillary.”

In any event, yesterday’s Kitty Hawk moment for Amazon was captured on a 2:06 promotional video for Amazon Prime Air, as the service is known.

“We're starting with two customers now and in the coming months we'll offer participation to dozens of customers living within several miles of our U.K. facility, and then growing to hundreds more,” the video's narrator tells us. “After that, well it'd be easy to say the sky's the limit, but that's not exactly true any more, is it?”

That’s presumably not good news for postal carriers and two-day deliverymen everywhere. 

“Drones are just a part of the online retailer’s long-term plan to develop its own transportation network to control more of its deliveries and one day compete with UPS and FedEx Corp., according to people familiar with the matter,” write Georgia Wells and Laura Stevens for the Wall Street Journal. “One factor driving Amazon to take over more of its supply chain are skyrocketing shipping costs, tied in part to consumers’ appetite for speedy deliveries. In the third quarter, the Seattle-based company’s shipping costs rose 43% to $3.9 billion.”

But why is the test taking place in England?

Because “The U.S. Doesn’t Want Drone Deliveries,” a Wired hed tells us. “Because Amazon’s drones are autonomous (no human with a remote control), and fly over the horizon (beyond a human’s line-of-sight), the FAA’s rules for commercial drone operations say they’re unwelcome in U.S. airspace,” writes Jack Stewart. 

They are not exactly a threat to cruising jumbo jets, flying at under 400 feet, as the Amazon video reports. And there’s plenty of action elsewhere in the ever-contracting worlds of both commerce and humanitarian aid. 

“Domino’s delivered a pizza via drone in New Zealand in August. Maersk Tankers sent supplies to a ship off the coast of Denmark in March. Google’s Project Wing brought snacks to the Australian outback in 2014. California-based Zipline is dropping badly needed blood supplies to remote clinics in Rwanda. UNICEF is working with the government of Malawi to test drones for humanitarian uses,” Stewart reports.

“Even though the FAA was slow to start, U.S. regulators have been granting permits for companies to test drone delivery, too. Since U.S. commercial drone rules were finalized at the end of August, the FAA’s website shows more than 200 commercial drone flight waivers have been issued,” reportsRecode’s April Glaser. “For example, UPS tested a medical supply drop to an island off the coast of Massachusetts in September; the same month, Alphabet’s drone delivery initiative, Project Wing, sent burritos to students at Virginia Tech.”

Meanwhile, in other faux news developments, multiple informed sources tell me that reindeer will still be employed by  Santa, LLC, which is based in the North Pole to take advantage of favorable tax rates, at least through the end of the decade.

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