Amazon’s New UAS Strategy

Amazon's new video touting its proposed Prime Air drone delivery service signals a change in the company's approach to getting the program off the ground and to consumers' homes.
By Patrick C. Miller | December 01, 2015

I give Amazon credit for knowing how to generate buzz that makes people think they need something. The company’s new infomercial for its proposed Prime Air drone delivery service cleverly draws on the talents of TV star Jeremy Clarkson, former host of the BBC’s popular “Top Gear” series. Can anyone resist a witty Brit who says am-ah-ZUN?

Clarkson sets up a hypothetical scenario “in the not-too-distant future.” What if the family dog chews up one of little Millie’s soccer shoes right before the big match?

Dad doesn’t know what to do. He’s obviously the low-tech sort who still reads newspapers. He doesn’t understand his daughter’s angst and considers yelling at the dog for complicating his life. Fortunately, high-tech mom knows how to act like a “rational human being.” She uses her Kindle tablet to immediately order a new pair of shoes via Prime Air.

And…presto! Problem solved! Within minutes, the drone lands in the yard with the shoes. The parents don’t look like out-of-touch old fogies, their daughter gets instant gratification and the dog also gets something healthy to chew on.

Of course, for this to actually happen, the fictional family would have to live within 15 miles of an Amazon fulfillment center offering Prime Air delivery service, order a product weighing less than five pounds, possess a yard large enough yard to serve as a drone landing pad and be experiencing ideal weather.

Oh, and there’s that one last little detail about Amazon not having permission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to perform commercial deliveries. Amazon also assumes that it has solved those pesky sense-and-avoid and traffic management issues to enable totally autonomous UAS operations in the national airspace.

Has any company ever invested so much money to make a commercial for a service that doesn’t exist? What’s the point?

Well, by now, most in the UAS world know that the FAA hasn’t moved fast enough to implement regulations that would allow Amazon to offer the aerial delivery service of Jeff Bezos’ dreams. Sending Amazon representatives before Congress to issue dire warnings about the U.S. losing its UAS technology edge and threatening to take the Prime Air program overseas hasn’t done much to change the situation.

So here’s the point: Amazon’s new strategy is to make Americans clamor for something they didn’t know they needed. What kid doesn’t want parents who quickly respond to his or her every need? What parents don’t want to be heroes in the eyes of their children? What rational human being doesn’t want an Amazon order to arrive as soon as possible?

If the politicians and bureaucrats in Washington won’t listen to Amazon’s experts, perhaps they’ll cave into pressure from irate consumers who demand action. Amazon apparently believes this approach is worth a shot.