JULIA BAYLY

Amazon drone delivery — skeet shooting with prizes?

Posted Jan. 22, 2014, at 12:50 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 23, 2014, at 3:04 p.m.
Boxes from Amazon.com are pictured on the porch of a house in Golden, Colorado in this July 23, 2008 file picture.
RICK WILKING | REUTERS
Boxes from Amazon.com are pictured on the porch of a house in Golden, Colorado in this July 23, 2008 file picture.

FORT KENT, Maine — Let me just say right up front, I am a huge supporter of shopping locally. Few things make me happier than finding exactly what I need at stores operated by people I know.

As well, few meals taste better than the ones in which everything on the menu was raised, grown and harvested within 25 miles of my plate.

But there are instances in even the most creative of local economies wherein a consumer must cast the shopping net a bit wider. So, like many, I have availed myself to the convenience of online shopping.

And since I am being honest here, I will admit to being completely seduced by the ease and convenience of shopping via a few simple keystrokes and mouse clicks on the computer.

Certainly, I am not alone in this as more and more Americans log on to Internet sales sites.

Everyone, it seems, has a webpage for selling their products, from Maine-based retail giant L.L. Bean to small, family-owned specialty shops.

Truly, there is very little that one can’t purchase online and have delivered to her doorstep.

Clothes, groceries, automotive parts, tools and books are all available.

Believe me, I know.

Despite a career that mandates a great deal of social interaction, I go through what my friends have termed my “hermit periods” during which I am more than happy to not step off Rusty Metal Farm for days on end.

This requires a bit of local shopping to stock up on supplies. For everything else? Powering up the laptop.

Anyone who has surfed the Web for deals knows the juggernaut of all online retailers is Seattle-based Amazon.com.

Once upon a time, Amazon dealt only in books and, for an avowed bibliophile such as myself, that was dangerous enough.

Time and time again, after making and paying for my online book selection, Amazon would provide helpful little hints, such as “customers who bought this book were also interested in these books.”

Clicking on those suggestions only prompted more purchases.

Click-click-click.

Over the years, Amazon has evolved and is now offering just about anything you can think of. And yes, they still offer those helpful hints along with pretty speedy shipping.

But this year the company really upped the ante with its announcement of plans to use unmanned drones to deliver goods by air from supply depots to your doorstep.

According to Amazon’s website, the goal of “Prime Air,” or, as I have taken to calling it, “skeet shooting with prizes,” is “to get packages into customers’ hands in 30 minutes or less using unmanned aerial vehicles.”

The plan is in development and testing stages and the company says there remain serious details to be worked out with the FAA. But a 2015 launch date is possible for the delivery system that Amazon claims “will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today.”

Now while I have been known to push the delivery envelope by waiting until the last minute to order things, even I am a tad disturbed by the spectre of numerous Amazon delivery drones buzzing the skies overhead.

Right off, I can see some problematic issues.

What if your neighbor is a compulsive shopper? Do you have the right to declare a no-fly zone around your house so as not to be disturbed by frequent drone deliveries? Can you then defend your airspace with use of arms?

What if you notice something flying through your airspace you really like? Can you down it and claim salvage rights?

Will the drones be outfitted to shoot back?

During times of heavy delivery schedules — say Christmas Eve — will Amazon hire temporary air traffic controllers to avoid midair drone collisions?

In looking at the Amazon video about the drones, each appears to be the size of a small coffee table, making it roughly the same size as a northern Maine moose fly.

In which case the folks at Amazon should not be too surprised if some of the northern-bound drones return covered in Old Woodsman, Bens or Deep Woods Off.

And speaking of returns, do the drones go home on their own? Does the purchaser get to keep one for awhile in case the product needs to be exchanged?

I am sure these are all things that are under discussion, right along with plans for the next generation of in-home ordering.

Since apparently some shoppers may find the drone flight time wait a bit too taxing, Amazon’s next plan — announced online (of course) in a Time Business & Money article — is about something it is calling “anticipatory shopping.”

Yes, it is every bit like it sounds — Brave New World meets The Home Shopping Network.

The concept is touted as a way of “initiating the delivery process before a customer even clicks ‘buy’ — the idea is to cut down on delivery time.”

The online retail giant describes it as, “a process for boxing and shipping items the company expects customers in a specific area will want — based on previous orders, product searches, wish lists or the contents of a shopping cart before checkout.”

Never mind the old adage “build it and they will come.” In the 21st century, the catch phrase will be “think of it and it will be delivered.”

From there, it’s not a big leap to imagine the day the drones join forces with “anticipatory shopping.”

I can see a day in which thousands of Amazon drones are in perpetual flight, just waiting for the moment I realize I need exactly the cargo they are carrying.

Frankly, there could be no better scenario if I want to graduate from part-time to full-time hermit.

And maybe, just maybe, part of the delivery process will be shooting the orders down from the skies.

Like I said, skeet shooting with prizes.

Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award winning writer and photographer, who writes part time for Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached by e-mail at jbayly@bangordailynews.com.

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