Protecting Yourself from Amazon Violating Your Air Rights and Privacy by Drone Trespassing

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Amazon is planning to launch delivery by drone “within months” and announced it could send 75% to 90% of its packages by drone. The Associated Press reported that the FAA, the regulator of commercial drones, did not respond to a request for comment, but the article noted that the agency had given Google the go-ahead for drone delivers in parts of Virginia.

In reality, Amazon’s drone delivery scheme is never going to amount to much. Drones are costly, fragile and tempting to hackers. More important, they won’t be cost competitive with existing delivery mechanisms that already move huge volumes of packages. The drone project is an exercise in image-burnishing which if Amazon is very lucky might goose the stock price a tad. It’s realistic only for delivering to places that don’t allow cars, like Mackinac Island or as a gimmick to land a package on a squillionaire’s doorstep rather than at the gate of his estate.

The Verge makes clear that Amazon isn’t as far along as its patter would have you believe:

More significant than the specs, though, was Amazon’s vagueness about when, where, and how this technology will be made available to customers. Wilke told the audience at Re:MARS: “You’re going to see it delivering packages to customers in a matter of months.” But the company has not yet selected a location for this early service.

“Our objective is to have a certified commercial program that will allow us to deliver to customers, and that’s what we’re working towards in the coming months,” Wilke told reporters a press briefing.

Amazon is hoping to get FAA approval for the design though. As Wilke told Bloomberg, the entire drone is built either from FAA-approved parts or designed with approval in mind. “We’re not telling the FAA, hey, here is something new that you’ve never seen before,” he said. “We’re saying, this is an airplane that’s built to exacting aerospace standards.”

It’s worth remembering that Amazon doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to meeting its deadlines in this area. The company first announced plans for Prime Air all the way back in 2013, but soon ran into problems with logistics and regulations. Then in 2016, it said it had made its first successful drone delivery to a customer in Cambridge, England. But that proved to be a one-off stunt rather than the beginning of a regular service.

However, since Amazon wants the great unwashed public to accept its PR at face value, let’s tease this idea out. In its usual tech bro disregard for the law, Amazon appears to believe it can violate the rights of property owners and their renters en masse. Drones may encroach on FAA controlled air space, and communicating with them in theory could interfere with airline communications, hence the reason for the agency’s interest.

However, drone deliveries would also violate the air rights home owners and renters all over the US. The extent of property-owner airspace is a grey area but it has been litigated in paraglider cases. A quick and dirty recap from Slate in 2013:

Before the advent of air travel, landowners owned an infinitely tall column of air rising above their plot. (The Latin doctrine was Cujus est solum ejus usque ad coelum, or “whose is the soil, his it is up to the sky.”) In 1946 the Supreme Court acknowledged that the air had become a “public highway,” but a landowner still had dominion over “at least as much of the space above the ground as he can occupy or use in connection with the land.” In that case the court held that a plane flying just 83 feet in the air—the commotion was literally scaring the plaintiff’s chickens to death—represented an invasion of property. The justices declined to precisely define the height at which ownership rights end. Today, the federal government considers the area above 500 feet to be navigable airspace in uncongested areas. While the Supreme Court hasn’t explicitly accepted that as the upper limit of property ownership, it’s a useful guideline in trespass cases. Therefore, unless you own some very tall buildings, your private airspace probably ends somewhere between 80 and 500 feet above the ground.

Amazon has effectively acknowledged that it will be flying its drones in the private airspace range. From the Associated Press account:

Amazon said its new drones use computer vision and machine learning to detect and avoid people or clotheslines in backyards when landing.

“From paragliders to power lines to a corgi in the backyard, the brain of the drone has safety covered,” said Jeff Wilke, who oversees Amazon’s retail business.

The “clothesline” and power lines comment are admissions by Amazon expects the drones to operate regularly at below 80 feet. The minimum height of power lines is 12 feet or 15 feet, depending on the voltage; the National Fire Protection Association recommends at least 18 feet. Per Wikipedia:

The standard utility pole in the United States is about 40 ft (12 m) long and is buried about 6 ft (2 m) in the ground. However, poles can reach heights of 120 ft (37 m) or more to satisfy clearance requirement.

Remember that as with the standard pole, part is buried in the ground and the electrical lines hang well below the top of the pole.

Again, playing out Amazon’s scenario, that instead of flying cars, we’ll have delivery drones zipping around handling most of Amazon’s traffic, what might an unhappy homeowner, or better yet, tenant renting a warehouse next to Amazon’s1 and therefore suffering from a blizzard of drones zooming overhead?

An Amazon drone using airspace without permission is trespass. And while property owners aren’t allowed to rough up trespassers (“use excessive force”), protecting property in ways that won’t harm hapless trespassers (like visible barbed wire) are fine. So shooting a drone over your property or deploying drone-frying equipment would seem to be kosher.

Now Amazon may think it can cover itself by inserting some new language in microtype in its Terms and Conditions that by using its delivery services, you have also consented to the use of your airspace for drone deliveries. But I don’t see this as enforceable in the case of using your air rights for deliveries to third parties. For a transfer of a right to Amazon, there needs to be an offer, acceptance, and consideration. Amazon isn’t giving any consideration to the air rights holder.

And that’s before getting to the wee problem…do you think local cops and courts would have any interest in defending Amazon’s perceived right to buzz homeowners to deliver toothpaste?

But let’s go further and say you wanted to sport with Amazon by being super self protective. I am sure the lawyers in the house could vastly improve on my napkin-doodle, but one could send a letter to Amazon’s general counsel warning Amazon that it is prohibited from entering your airspace, even for the purposes of making drone deliveries to you, unless they paid, say, $1000 per year, and warning them that you are not responsible for what happens to any Amazon property that impermissibly enters your airspace. You’d probably need language that this notice supersedes any prior understanding.

If you are so lucky as to dispatch a drone, I would hang onto the damaged drone and delivery. I’d wait a day or so to make sure the delivery is late before informing Amazon that they are welcome to send a live human being by to pick up their stuff if they are so inclined.

Fortunately, mass Amazon droning is highly unlikely to be part of your future. But you should be well armed in case things go that way!

1 My understanding is that renters get to exercise the air rights of the property owner during their tenancy.

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  1. The Rev Kev

    Maybe it might be wise to build these drones out of Kevlar, especially when traversing rural areas. If you get young hoons that find it fun to shoot at road signs, the sight of an overflying drone would be irresistible. In any case, having a package delivered by drone is probably not about efficiency but more about showing off to the neighbours. One does it and then the next thing you know your neighbourhood is constantly buzzing with the sounds of these things.
    Just had a thought. OK, let’s assume that anything in the first 500 feet (152 meters) belongs to a landholder, right? Unless these drones will go direct to a property and lower themselves vertically that distance like an elevator to the destination, then they might find themselves going through the airspace of neighbouring properties. So, taking a leaf out of 21st century tech organizations, then they should be forced to pay a “transit fee” for using other people’s airspace.
    The first 500 feet is not a common that Amazon can claim for itself and its own personal use. If they take it to court to try to reverse decades of established laws, then the judges and lawyers involved in that case may find their homes being buzzed by drones to make the point of what is good for the goose. Lawn mower and whipper-snippers are bad enough but having these things buzz around a suburb will turn some people feral.
    There is another aspect as well. People may remember how a decade ago that Google Street View cars were “accidentally” capturing people’s Wi-Fi data as they were driving through all those neighbourhoods. Here is an article about this in case people have forgotten-

    So would you trust Amazon to not only to do the same but also to give a live video feed of people’s yards to Amazon’s servers as thy overflew them and suggesting to those listed Amazon customers abut stuff that they could use for their yards. Sound unlikely? Then remember the fact that the latest generation of Roomba vacuum cleaners map the houses/flats that they are in and that one reason was that they could note what people did not have so that it could be suggested to them in their advertising feeds.

    1. Ford Prefect

      They are going to love the drones. You don’t even have to yell “Pull” to the person launching the skeet.

    2. Cal2

      “An Amazon drone using airspace without permission is trespass”

      “Dear Amazon, Feel free to use my airspace [coordinates here*] below 500 feet to approach neighboring properties or to cross town.”

      “I require a payment of One Hundred Dollars per overflight. [Bank routing details here*].
      Your drone, or those of any subsidiary, or agent, crossing over my property is acceptance of this offer and will be collected directly in a court of law or indirectly by the sheriff at any of your brick and mortar locations, in case of non-payment.”

      “In case of non-payment following the terms of this offer, we reserve the right to use our net deploying fighter-drones to capture your drones crossing over our land and to retain both the drone and the cargo as consideration, with no limit as to the number or value of those captured.”

      1. RepubAnon

        I’m betting Amazon will soon be adding an easement provision for all Amazon Prime members allowing free use of airspace, and a 20 year free airspace use provision in the Amazon terms and conditions for anyone buying anything from Amazon.

    3. ambrit

      The cops used to have a Cessna single engine airplane that cruised over “suspicious” areas looking for plantations of the “evil weed.” When we lived near Bogalusa, we saw this aircraft often. Rural areas full of ‘necks and heads were prime spots for ‘plantation suppression’ activities. This aircraft flew out of Hammond Airport, which also houses the Coast Guard gulf coast jet fleet. (The Coast Guard has a fleet on more than the billowing waves.) That Cessna occasionally would come back with bullet holes in the wings and fuselage.
      Appropriately enough, the “Forces of Law and Order” are very close mouthed about their own drone fleets. Will there be problems between the Police Drones and the Amazon Drones?
      Also, what about Amazon “buzzing” the populace by delivering products like cannabis? Will we see a proliferation of “Plain Brown Wrappered Drones?” Fed Ex used to deliver Hustler magazine in those ‘Plain Brown Wrappers’ because the regular Post Office would not. Amazon must be sniffing at that ‘niche’ market too.

  2. Godfree Roberts

    The drone delivery business in China is approaching a billion dollars annually. Why can’t it succeed in the US?

    1. DSB

      The linked article from the Economist doesn’t give me the confidence to believe it is approaching a “billion dollars annually”.

      Regarding China drone delivery by it says, “The practicalities of drone delivery only make sense in rural settings.”

      “JD sees upside in providing fast, reliable delivery to the countryside, helping it to take a larger slice of this business.”

      “Suqian, which is near Zhangwei, was chosen as JD’s first drone delivery hub because of the region’s flat terrain, which makes drone flight easier. The city is also the home town of Mr Liu, JD’s chief executive …”

      “Once the drone’s cargo hits the ground, its contents pass over to the “drone postman” for delivery. This is either a local JD promoter, whose primary job is teaching villagers how to use JD’s shopping app, or a worker hired on China’s leading crowdworking platform, Dada.”

      1. tegnost

        Look at it this way, fully autonomous self driving remains 10 years out, as it will continue to do (inoculation, yes I know that there are some self driving vehicles, no they don’t go door to door without a person in them) The only self driving semi is on an easy route in the southwest that isn’t critical so that if it had weather issues, say, a competent human could actually do it very easily and reliably. Ubers ipo flopped. Tesla might not make it through the year. No one is on their way to mars. Autonomous systems are crashing jetliners. It really seems to be just another BS talking point on the road to what there is no alternative to.

        1. Math is Your Friend

          “Look at it this way, fully autonomous self driving remains 10 years out”

          That’s not really relevant.

          A lot of the problems with self driving road vehicles involve things like speed limits, variable road regulations, blocked sight lines, recognition of a huge variety of objects in very limited time, traffic control signs, stop lights, pedestrians, bicycles, road obstacles. etc.

          Those things, in general, stay on the ground. Drones in flight need only identify an object’s size, location, and velocity, and then only if it is high enough to matter.

          A suitable combination of radar, sonar, lasers, and and/or optical recognition in should do it. Simple object detection/ranging/velocity mearsurement devices should be becoming less expensive as they are integrated into cars as sensors for various collision avoidance, blind spot detection, and collision mitigation systems, bringing in serious economies of scale and production learning.

          It is a much simpler problem. As well, a drone encountering an ambiguous situation can hover and page a human operator for instructions.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            A computer scientist PhD colleague of mine disagrees with your assessment. Drones are fragile, won’t fly in many weather conditions (hard rains, high winds) easily hacked, easily taken down by other means (lasers, water cannons), and most important, way too costly relative to the payloads they can carry. He is confident that delivery drones will be largely a gimmick and at best used in very narrow niches.

            1. Math is Your Friend

              I agree entirely about narrow niches for flying drones. One test case that was flown was for delivery of critical drugs to offshore islands (in this case, IIRC, off the coast of Britain) when water transport was not available.

              And the cost factors favour other means, when available. It is most probable that the overwhelming majority of delivery drones will run on wheels, over roads or sidewalks (depending on size, local laws, etc), and deposit deliveries into some kind of secure box or hatch.

              On the other hand, it would be a mistake to assume that delivery drones must look like, and have the capabilities of, light consumer drones. For one thing, they will need a lot more lift and range. A better comparison might be military battlefield drones of the type used for artillery spotting and similar tasks… larger, more robust, and presumably much more resistant to hacking…. at least one hopes.

              As for shooting them down, or jamming operating frequencies, well, those things would be very illegal in most countries.

              Drones will only fly in cases where the cost is justified by the return (unlikely in most cases) or the need (critical drug delivery, search and rescue, etc.).

              Part of the cost benefit analysis is how big and capable a drone you need. If we can build something that will fly in certain types of conditions, we can make it a drone, if it is important enough. Depending on the need, it may be that drones can fly in weather that a piloted aircraft cannot, simply because losing a drone to weather doesn’t cost you a pilot or pilots.

              Ultimately, drones will have faster reactions, better sensor data bandwidth, and no lapses of attention when compared to piloted aircraft, but we are not there yet. That said, it’s mostly a matter of code and very pure sand… and the silicon is getting faster and cheaper while the code is slowly getting better.

              Oddly, it occurs to me that a good competitor for drones might well be a smart switched pneumatic tube system, at least in dense urban areas., as was done (a bit) in some dense urban cores about a century ago:


    2. Robert Valiant

      Because some people in the US believe they have “rights” – like airspace rights. That’s why we can’t have nice things.

      1. ambrit

        s/ A “True American” would have one of the servants pick the package up in one of the compound’s Hummers. They deserve “nice things.” The rest of us? Don’t make me laugh. /s

      2. Andrew Manson

        While I agree with you to some degree, the US also has a different set of rules compared to some other countries. That doesn’t make Amazon’s claims any less credible however, as the logistics don’t add up, and drones can easily be brought down by gunfire, water cannons, potato cannons, and potentially hacking. It’s essentially Amazon trying to make themselves appear superior to uneducated masses compared to other, well respected delivery companies like UPS, United States Postal Service, etc with a “Hey, look at us, we’ve got flying delivery trucks!” stunt that is not even economically viable in most applications.

  3. Ignacio

    Wow, how exciting… I can’t wait to a drone bringing home a brand new [/familyblog] super-smart Alexa thingy. Shall I have to leave a window open?

    1. XXYY

      I continue to be mystified about how drone delivery would/could actually work. Does the thing just show up and dump a package somewhere in your yard? Or on the driveway? Or on the roof? What if it’s raining or likely to rain? What if the sprinklers go on? What if you don’t have a yard or a driveway? Or do you have to meet it when it arrives and take custody of the package? What if people see the drone coming from miles away, follow it, and help themselves to your package?

      The practicalities of package delivery seem completely incompatible with a robot flying machine.

      1. Monty

        I thought it would take the form of a squadron of small drones that get launched from the back of the delivery truck. They get fed a package and a delivery destination, then fly out to the doorstep and drop the load. The driver is still in the truck proceeding on the route and will be alerted if there are any problems than need intervention. The drones return to the truck for the next package, or sit and recharge if necessary.

      2. Copeland

        Each delivery drone would be accompanied by one to three “hunter/killer” drones, to deter package theft.

        I dread the arrival of city planning department drones, to snoop and then send out code violation letters and demands for payment.

        Emergency medical assistance is the only area where I would perhaps be on board.

      3. Lambert Strether

        > I continue to be mystified about how drone delivery would/could actually work.

        It’s like they solve the “last mile” problem, but not the last ten feet problem.

        You also can’t leave notes for them (assuming there’s no human operator).

  4. jefemt

    The arrogance… like Musk “Just Doing It” ™ with his squadron of satellites.

    The Commons– owned by nation-states, available for license, or owned by us all, regardless of flag or commercial interests?

    Just toss that plastic in this Ocean over here…..

  5. Dirk77

    Ever since the first Matrix movie, I’ve thought that an EMP cannon would be useful to have. Something any high school physics class could build. Is it the expense or has it been outlawed?

    1. Kurtismayfield

      I could build a small EMP with limited range, all you need is to build a capacitor. It’s legal, but as soon as you set it off and it disrupts any electromagnetic communications the FCC can come down on you hard.

      1. Dirk77

        Ah, perhaps that’s it. But if you are going to take down a drone, I guess a laser would be a better bet. Possibly a water hose. Or a BB gun. “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.”

  6. jackiebass

    One question I have is when a drone gets to a location , how will it leave the package? Will it simply drop it where it lands. If outside what will protect the package from rain or snow? Will the drone be capable of delivering several packages to different locations? A lot of logistic questions to be addressed.

    1. evodevo

      Yes. This. I am a mail carrier. We deliver at least 100 Amazon packages a day to numerous, widely spaced rural households….some have a porch – a lot do not, some want their package in a certain spot, all have dogs who are likely to eat or run off with the parcel if it is left where they can get at it, AND then there’s the weather….
      Yves is right – this is solely a publicity stunt….

      1. Acacia

        Ah, voices of reason. And now I am eagerly awaiting the first wave of “Amazon drone meets my Pitbull” videos on YT.

  7. James

    If their drones just follow the streets and public thoroughfares then they won’t overfly any private property except for the recipient of the delivery.

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      Or stay above 500 feet until arrival. Fully developed, it would be a nightmare and would have to be confined to the poor since the rich would tire of it very quickly. A self defeating program if ever there was one.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        The police, on the other hand, would salivate at the potential such an effort would open up for them in their on going effort to monitor every human 24hrs a day at a distance of 2 or three inches from birth till death for their own protection of course. And that would extend out to building codes and all manner of intrusiveness, some of it might even be beneficial, but absolutely stifling on the whole.

        1. RepubAnon

          And I’ll bet Amazon will set their drones up with free video feeds to the cops …

    2. PlutoniumKun

      I don’t know how common this is in the US, but in other Common Law jurisdictions private land ownership frequently includes highways – the highway authorities have the right to construct and operate the road, the land is still technically under the ownership of the adjoining property. Its quite common in Ireland for basements to extend under the streets for this reason.

      1. Carolinian

        Here there are easements to allow everyone to use a few roads across private property but I believe almost all of our roads are public property.

        As to the above, if you buy a drone in a store then you are supposed to obey FAA rules which say it must stay below 500 ft., out of controlled airspace and within your line of sight. Obviously the Amazon drones will violate the line of sight rule out of the box and none of this will be able to happen without an FAA waiver. The whole idea is so absurd that most assumed it was simply a Bezos PR scam when he first announced it on 60 Minutes. It probably still is.

      2. rd

        Its actually the opposite in many areas of the US, mainly because the roads get built before anything else is put there, unlike Europe.

        When a subdivision or business park is developed, the builder constructs the roads and then deeds over to the municipality the roadway itself plus space on both sides of the road for utilities etc. So at my house, my property doesn’t actually begin until I have crossed 20 feet of my lawn and garden between the road and my property boundary. All the utilities are about 10-15 feet from the edge of the road.

        the inner cities are usually different with property boundaries extending to the edge of the street or sometimes the edge of the sidewalk.

        When they build a new road or highway, they usually use eminent domain to purchase the land at “fair value”, including subsurface and air rights. There are exceptions of course. The purchase costs are a major factor in new infrastructure construction.

        Utilities are often on easements on either public or private land.

      3. Math is Your Friend

        I live in a common law country, and it is rather different.

        Public roads have a ‘road allowance’ that is often wider than the road itself, particularly on residential streets. My property ends three or four meters short of the curb, and everything beyond that actually belongs to the city.

        As an example, I can have a tree on my property trimmed, but if it’s in those few metres, I have to call the city, and their arborists will decide whether to trim or not, and if yes, will have a contractor or city crew in to do it.

        If the city wants to widen the road, they can just do it. If they want to widen past the limits of the road allowance, then they have to widen the road allowance… not sure exactly the process, but on some larger roads either the allowance was wider or they have increased it.

        The only permanent structures I can put on that land would be a driveway and/or sidewalk to the house. I can probably change the species of grass… maybe.

        Side note – if the road is not public property, normal traffic laws do not apply, for either drivers or vehicles. There are some overlaps – for example, dangerous driving is a traffic offence or a criminal offence… it exists in both acts. The penalties for the latter can be quite a bit more severe. If charged, you really want it to be the traffic offence.

    3. Oh

      I can hardly wait to see the drones get tangled in the power lines. Then I can watch the flashy drones go to hell.

  8. Brooklin Bridge

    I doubt shooting down drones will stand up legally since it puts others in danger. Bit of a shame since I confess it would be terrific sport and would lend itself marvelously to fun competitions.

    If they could just leave that one form of self protection available, I would be considerably more tolerant of Amazon’s (and it’s zombie anything interesting goes -cause someone else will just do it if I don’t- code heads) efforts to utterly flaunt privacy rights with drones.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        Love the idea, even if the word, “just,” does a lot of work there. Training eagles would be hard (even if very rewarding) work – unlike making a new form of skeet shooting (basically the fun of blasting something to bits) available to the masses. Not only that, but in the US, every real patriot already owns a gun and so they would finally have a real use for them.

        1. tegnost

          way more fun to get some say 1/4″ spectra line, tie a 1 or 2 ounce fishing weight to either end and make what amounts to an air rifle that shoots it out,kind of similar to hobbling a horse. this is going to be fun. i mean once we’re all out of work because of the robots, what else are we going to do? The good thing about a robot is you can turn it off, humans just make mischief for the most part, look at bezos.

          1. j7915

            IIRC it was called chain shot and used to tear up the rigging of sailing ships, either some cannon balls linked by chains or a rod. Reading all those Hornblower novels has some pratical value :)). How about the guacho bolo?

            Skeet shooting sounds the most fun and it would be practical training for patriotic fighter pilots. Seems like most of the aces credited their skeet shooting training for their success and survival,

            1. Off The Street

              Awaiting inevitable reality show about backyard engineers and their killer drones or drone killers, or why not both!

    1. TheMog

      I can’t find the source right now as I’m at work, but I recall a similar discussion in a different place that basically ended with the conclusion that getting grandma’s shotgun and starting to blast at drones is a good way to get the FAA’s attention as you’re interfering with air traffic, even if said traffic is interfering with your property rights.

      There’s a whole bunch of (case) law around these issues that was (for example) needed to deal with emergency landings on other people’s property. Of course most of this dates from the pre-drone era when Amazon was mostly a river and your neighbours would have to find other means of peeking into your windows.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        I got involved some years ago with noise issues and after years of effort found that wealthy (real wealth – the .001% kind) rural neighborhoods can actually tell the FAA where to get off (and get results) where as even fairly affluent middle class neighborhoods can go suck on eggs for all the good the FAA will do them.

        In the process, I learned some of the vacuous excuses small plane pilots use for polluting other people’s property (they do at least agree that noise over their own property shouldn’t be tolerated), such as, “you should have found out about plane noise before you bought the property,” and of course have no reply when you ask about property bought over 70 or more years ago. I guess it becomes like the argument that the poor should have chosen better parents before they were born.

        Anyway, the short of it is that the FAA is like many other government institutions now-a-days; basically corrupt and utterly in thrall to corporate interests. Along with our system of jurisprudence, this makes for tough sledding when it comes to such trifles as the Constitution.

    2. rd

      Its also illegal to shoot at street signs and power substations. That doesn’t stop it from happening.

    3. Tom Stone

      Brooklin, shooting at or shooting down a drone is a very bad idea unless you live in an area with no nearby neighbors.
      It’s an irresponsible thing to do, to put it mildly.
      You are very likely to end up in jail for discharging a firearm, it’s not legal to discharge a firearm in almost every town or city unless it’s in self defense.
      Bullets don’t care where they land, and if a gun is fired at a 45 degree angle a bullet can go a long way.
      Hit a person and you will be charged with a very serious crime.
      Get together with your neighbors and buy a “Drone Defender” if you can’t afford one yourself, bring down the drone safely without endangering innocent people.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        Tom, you might consider adjusting your snark-0-meter a tad (or if your comment is tongue-in-cheek I should adjust mine). But regardless, rest assured, as my first sentence indicated, stray bullets can harm others – screw responsibility, it’s a non starter.

        1. ambrit

          True about the “responsibility” remark. Amazon based it’s business model on, basically, ‘screwing’ their responsibility to observe the Law. As in any “popular” courtroom drama, at some point, the attorney comes out with the classic excuse; “But your honour. Plaintiff’s attorney opened the door to this line of questioning when he or she asked such and such a question.”
          Amazon has already opened the door to ‘illegality.’
          We live in a degenerate age.

        1. tegnost

          or maybe a baking soda and vinegar rocket…it’s almost like there’s no end to the possibilities!

  9. Adam1

    With the exception of extremely difficult delivery locations I can’t see how a drone system is remotely as efficient as current delivery options. Amazon won’t be able to invest in cheap drones or it’ll negate any benefits. The drones will need to be able to reliably fly in all sorts of weather and will need to be able to do this over and over again. I can’t imagine a drone like that will be cheap. And you’ll need thousands of them which now means you’ve got a fleet of equipment that now must be maintained. And because of the weather the packaging will now need to be weather proof which will likely mean more packaging costs. And some of these drones will fail in route. Even if the drone can safely land how is the delivery and drone being retrieved? How are the goods being secured from theft while awaiting retrieval? These would seem to be significant expenses that need to be covered somehow. And what about those drones that can’t make a safe landing? Not only is the merchandise likely damaged in the crash but there will likely be non-Amazon personal property damages that will need to be compensated for. Or god forbid physical injury to a person – call in the bloody lawyers. When a truck breaks down it rarely causes an accident, and now you’re talking about replacing one truck with dozens of drones. The drone’s failure rates would need to be magnitudes higher than a truck which likely means you’re talking drones that are in the performance spectrum of a commercial aircraft just smaller. A Boeing 737-Max costs in the ballpark of $100M. Even at 1:100 that’s still a million-dollar drone. Absent that quality level of a drone it won’t take many repainted BMW’s, personal injury cases or a couple home replacements due to fire to wipe out profits absent a massive delivery charge.

    1. cnchal

      Amazon doesn’t need any stinking profits.

      Those drones are “all electric” and Amazon, like a parasite that won’t die, gets it’s power at a steep discount to what you or I pay, so for Amazon it is subsidies till death do us part. Besides they have an army of soulless lawyers to make any BMW owner cringe.

      I think there might be a market for slingshots to take the drones on. Hey, become a third party seller on Amazon selling drone killing slingshots.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Would like a lawyer to opine. Businesses have tire nails in driveways to destroy the tires of trespassers. I think if you have given Amazon written notice, the bit re destroying their property is moot. I agree about the danger to others, though.

      1. RMO

        Many cities/towns have laws on the books that make it illegal to discharge a firearm except within a licensed firing range – they usually go so far as to make it illegal to shoot an air rifle/pistol for target practice inside your own property, even if you’re doing it inside a building such as the basement or garage. Rural areas outside of town and city limits often allow shooting on your own property or others if you get permission from the landowner.

  10. neighbor7

    Took a balloon ride over Norfolk UK once, gorgeous, if crowded. The balloonist had to follow a complicated, property-by-property map of navigation, because animals–chickens, horses, etc.–are very disturbed by strange things in the sky.

    1. Off The Street

      How does one steer a balloon, given air current vagaries, beyond more or less hot air to change altitude? Balloon navigation always struck me as notional or suggestive, not definitive.

  11. Jesper

    About the signing for delivery… How would that work? Camera on the drone, facial recognition or just the same as regular delivery?

    My purchases online are limited and it is mostly due to due issues related to getting the delivery. Deliveries usually come during working hours – when I am at work so the end result is that I get notified where I can pick it up. The place where I can pick up the ordered item is in a not ideal location and the opening hours are mostly during office hours. It has happened more that once that I’ve paid extra in a store for the convinience of not dealing with deliveries. Some things have to be ordered, some things are simply too costly in shops in Ireland but often I am willing to pay the price-differential just to have the item when I pay for the item.
    (Yep, I have had items delivered to work as delivery firms actually often prefer delivering to offices – someone is always there to sign for delivery and often the delivery van has more deliveries in the same area etc.)

    Delivery by drone probably has a niche, I’m not sure if I see it being much more than a niche.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Camera on drone. The AP article mentions cameras. People are unlikely to be there to accept the package. You need proof of delivery, which you have with a person making the delivery now.

      1. RMO

        My wife and I have been delivering the local newspaper twice weekly for a couple of years now (the kid that used to do it moved away and no one else had taken the job in over a year – the exercise is good, and it’s been nice getting to know the neighbors) so I regularly see the front doors of about 160 houses around here. Amazon (and other) packages sitting on the doorstep unattended is extremely common. Canada Post seems to be the only carrier that doesn’t just drop boxes off at an empty house. FedEx and UPS drivers often leave things just sitting on the porches, even when the person has selected the “require signature for delivery” option. Drone delivery is still a boneheaded, dead-end idea though.

  12. Savita

    In Australia, it’s already happening. i shared the above news article on NC at the time
    What the article doesn’t describe is just how angered and upset the residents of the trial period/region were. They were threatening to shoot them down – anything – for some peace
    Canberra, the town (national capital of Australia, where Parliament sits) that has just given Google permission to proceed, has a Minister (equivalent of a Mayor) well known for bending over and/or kneeling for developrs and corporations. The population of homeless people has grown exponentially under his watch. Outrageous for such a well heeled, well off and small city. (Town, really)

  13. EoH

    Amazon would not miss the opportunity to do a Giggle and use the platforms it has already paid for for additional purposes, various kinds of photography and electronic surveillance among them. Selling such services to governments and/or its contractors seems to be a tried and true way to overcome obvious regulatory objections to the presence of such intrusive objects into private space.

  14. Ook

    Anyone who uses apps that utilize GNSS will know how often these mess up, requiring human intervention. We’re nowhere near ready for this kind of thing.
    Also, it would be an interesting legal case if someone decided to use a jammer or control device with calibrated range, that only touched objects flying inside its legally-defined airspace (ground plus 80 to 500 feet).

  15. John

    Amazon is going to go high tech with drone delivery
    instead of the low tech human donkey last mile delivery
    it is using now. (humans pushing carts of packages to deliver in cities)


  16. Geoffrey Robertson

    Picture this, drone lands in yard to make delivery, with props spinning,
    and some curious little kid runs up and puts his or her hand in the prop!
    Injured for life, how much will the lawsuit be?
    I don’t see how this can work without designated landing enclosures, perhaps
    ones that secure the package somehow.
    Maybe one in every postal zone and all deliveries go to there?
    Geoffrey Robertson

  17. Rhondda

    Simultaneously, Amazon is promoting a kinda-sorta FedX / UPS model of A-branded, but outsourced, small-biz “logistics partners” for ground delivery. Looks like a min of $10k investment and $30k reserves to qualify. I was shown an ad for it a few days ago:

    It seems odd to be touting drone delivery at the same time they are pushing a start-your-own Amazon delivery company to would-be entrepreneurs.

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