Where are the delivery drones?

Jeff Bezos said Amazon drones will bring toothpaste and cat food to American homes within four to five years. That was almost nine years ago. Oops.

Amazon said this week that it plans to begin delivering the first drone in the United States sometime in 2022, perhaps in a town in California.

Today’s newsletter addresses two questions. What makes it so long to deliver a drone? And are they better than other ways of carrying goods to our doors?

Conclusion: For the time being, drone delivery will be convenient in a limited number of locations for a small number of products under certain conditions. However, due to technical and financial limitations, drones are unlikely to be the future of large parcel delivery.

Drone delivery is an important improvement for some tasks, such as delivering medicines to people in remote areas. But it’s not as ambitious as the big drone dream Bezos and others have generally marketed.

Why is a drone so difficult?

Small aircraft operating without human control face two serious obstacles. The technique is complex and governments often demand a lot of bureaucracy for good reason. (In the United States, regulatory issues are largely resolved.)

Dampat, an experienced drone engineer and senior fellow in the Hudson Institute’s research group, said he and I could make our own delivery drone in the garage for less than $ 5,000 in about a week. I did. The basics are not so difficult.

But the real world is infinitely complex, and drones can’t handle it. Drones are fast and need to accurately “see” and navigate buildings, wires, trees, and other aircraft and people before landing on the ground or unloading luggage from high altitudes. GPS can conch out for a moment and crash the drone. There is little room for error.

“It’s really easy to solve the first part of the problem,” Pat said. “It’s very difficult to completely solve the problem and make the drone delivery completely robust.”

The typical engineer’s approach is to think smaller. This means limiting the drone to a relatively simple setup. Startup Zipline focused on using drones to deliver blood and medicines to healthcare centers in relatively large areas of Rwanda and Ghana, which are difficult to drive. Typical suburbs and cities are more complex and vehicle delivery is a better option. (Thousands live in mostly dispersed homes in Lockeford, California, where Amazon plans to deliver the first US drone.)

It’s still an incredible achievement, and over time drones have become able to deliver in other types of settings.

A more annoying problem is that drone delivery may not make sense economically in most cases. It’s cheap to pack another package in a UPS delivery truck. But drones can’t carry that much. They cannot make many stops in one flight. People and cars need to bring cat food and toothpaste to the place where the drone takes off.

“I think it’s a small market, a small concept, a niche use for the next decade,” says Patt. “We won’t extend to replace everything.” Some people working on drones are more optimistic than Pat, but similar optimism is inadequate in other areas as well. I understand.

Exceeded expectations and lack of delivery

The similarities between drones and self-driving cars continued to pop out to me. Drone technicians have told me that, like self-driving cars, they misjudgment challenges and overestimate the potential of computer-operated vehicles.

Reliable drone delivery and self-driving cars are good ideas, but they may not be as popular as technicians might have imagined.

Automated technology continues to make the same mistakes. For decades, engineers have continued to say that self-driving cars, computers that infer like human and robot factory workers are quickly everywhere and better than their predecessors. We want to believe them. And if the vision doesn’t spread, disappointment begins.

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Brian X. ChenThe New York Times Consumer Technology Columnist, suggests ways to make our (undrone-delivered) online shopping a bit more calm on the planet.

  • Resist immediate satisfaction. If you don’t need the item right away, we recommend choosing the slowest delivery time. Next-day or same-day delivery often means that the packaging company chooses speed over efficiency. Increases the flight and mileage of planes that cause pollution.

  • Use less paperboard. There is an option called Amazon Day Delivery that allows you to select a specific day of the week and combine multiple orders into one drop-off. Items can also be packed in fewer boxes. In addition, for some products, Amazon offers a “frustration-free package” that eliminates unnecessary packages. Choosing one of these options reduces paperboard and plastic consumption.

  • If it is practical, buy a second hand item. Many Amazon lists have the option to purchase the item in use. For many items, from cast iron cookware to screwdrivers, it makes perfect sense to buy lightly used items before returning them. You give your product a second life and save yourself a few dollars.

  • A former Google video producer sued the company, claiming he was fired after complaining about the influence of religious denominations at work. Kade Mets and Dai Wakabayashi unveiled a strange story of software, winemaking, and higher consciousness.

  • Inside the world of ransomware hugs: Bloomberg News described the work of a negotiator dealing with criminals who lock an organization’s computer system until it is rewarded. (A subscription may be required.)

  • The cryptocurrency workplace collapses during the collapse of the crypto market. My colleagues Ryan Mac and David Yaffe-Bellany report on a crypto company boss who told employees to quit if they disagree on issues such as women’s intelligence and gender identity.

Birds are amazing.Is here Car alarm, police siren, cell phone.

We want to hear from you. What do you think of this newsletter and what else do you want us to explore?You can reach us ontech@nytimes.com.

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