Opinion Columns & Blogs

Jack Ohman: Amazon contemplate drone deliveries, and good publicity

Jack Ohman
Jack Ohman

Steve Jobs, the late Apple chief executive officer, once famously wrote, “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes ... the ones who see things differently.”

Over at Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos, the founder of the shopping and media giant, could also be thrown in there. Anyone who has the foresight to invest in newspapers like The Washington Post has our wholehearted attention.

In an interview with Charlie Rose on CBS’s “60 Minutes” ( so old media), Bezos told of his vision of drones called octocopters delivering packages from Amazon – it’s called “PrimeAir” – to your home. The drones, he said, would carry 5-pound packages right to your door.

Not sure how you would sign for that, or even when such deliveries might become reality.

Drone technology is expanding into many aspects of American life, from law enforcement to national security. On some level, we suppose it would be refreshing to have drones used for something other than surveillance. Amazon says 86 percent of its deliveries are under 5 pounds, so if you want your copy of “Fifty Shades of Grey” surreptitiously dropped into your backyard, there one day could be a vehicle to do it – and within a half hour of your order being placed.

Not that you want “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

Usually, when we read or hear about drones, they’re spying on and/or killing people overseas. Amazon’s contemplated use of drones might be refreshing. There’s actually a company in Australia that’s employing drones for delivery purposes as well.

Perhaps the most effective use of drone-delivery technology at Amazon.com is delivering publicity. Amazon – like Apple, Wal-Mart and the New York Yankees – suffers from Corporate Behemoth Public Perception Disorder. One way to change the debate is to announce visionary and bold moves, so that the conversation shifts from the original problem, which, for Amazon, is shutting down mom-and-pop bookstores and other small retailers. Come to think of it, this might be another use of drone technology to destroy things from above.

The arguments in favor of drone delivery are interesting: They’re greener than big trucks and 747s, and they would only deliver 10 miles away from one of the 96 Amazon fulfillment centers. The arguments against are kind of obvious. Let’s say you had those same drones delivering the 300 orders per second Amazon sometimes receives. That’s a lot of drones, and the Federal Aviation Administration hasn’t worked out a policy on them yet. There’s also the question of maybe that same drone dropping a 5-pound package on Fido. Oops. Sorry. Wrong house.

Maybe America faces a future of fast food delivered by drones to unemployed truck drivers and small-business owners displaced by drones. We can almost eliminate people entirely, creating even more drone opportunity.

Bezos may be right: This is the future, along with flying cars, personal jet packs and home robots. We still want all of those. Just last week, the California Department of Motor Vehicles, a forward-looking department if there ever were one, published its first draft of regulations for the testing of autonomous, self-driving cars, also known as Google cars after the company that pushed for the legislation legalizing them.

As Steve Jobs rightly noted, sometimes the crazy idea and the visionary gesture can change the world: we’re writing this editorial on one of his crazy ideas. But sometimes crazy is just crazy – or like-a-fox crazy. In the case of Amazon, it could also be an elaborate public relations joke.

Delivery of the punchline is really important. Why not use drones to deliver it?