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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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The BattalionMay 4, 2024

Opinion: Amazon’s disastrous drone plan

With+the+introduction+of+Amazon+Air%2C+drone+delivery+has+come+to+College+Station.+Join+opinion+columnist+%40Charis_Batt+in+exploring+the+service+and+wondering+about+what+comes+next.%26%23160%3B
Graphic by Pranay Dhoopar

With the introduction of Amazon Air, drone delivery has come to College Station. Join opinion columnist @Charis_Batt in exploring the service and wondering about what comes next.

 

This just in: Amazon has decided to introduce loot boxes to College Station.
Well, not really … but they have announced that Amazon Prime Air, a drone delivery service, will be coming to the Bryan-College Station area.
This is, in no uncertain terms, a terrible idea.
You think College Station has problems with stolen traffic signs? Amazon has now provided the hooligans of Texas A&M with the promise of consistent supply drops.
College Station is set to be one of only two cities in the country privileged with the drone delivery program. Its partner in the experiment is Lockeford, an unincorporated community in rural California with a bustling population of 3,500.
Lockeford is so small the U.S. Census Bureau designated it a “census-designated place,” which means it’s too small to be a town but too populated to just be a bunch of hermits who happened to live close together.
Why this unlikely pair? Simple. Nowhere has cheaper land than a college cow town and an isolated community not even federally recognized as a town.
Regardless of why the company chose these cities, Amazon Air is here. Since the service’s official launch in late December 2022 it’s enjoyed about as much success as “Cats” the movie. During Prime Air’s first month, drones have made deliveries to fewer than 10 households in California and Texas combined.
They have, however, found success in one always-popular aspect of business: firing workers. Business Insider reports that more than half of the employees at both locations have already been laid off.
As much as I enjoy clowning on Bezos’ brainchild, the fact it’s delivered to so few houses isn’t really Amazon’s fault. It’s all due to the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA.
The FAA — less than gung-ho about the whole “drone delivery” thing — are hesitant to allow Amazon to issue fully autonomous drones into communities.
This may come as a shock to you, but the FAA’s process to license different models of autonomous drones is pretty convoluted. Who knew the government could be so slow and inefficient?
Oh, right.
It turns out the U.S. already has very strict airspace regulations. In order to license each new model of drone, the FAA creates individual exemptions for the new model, as well as a laundry list of conditions for the company attached to the new drone.
In short, among many other things, Amazon’s drones can’t be anywhere near people or moving vehicles, and they can’t cross a street even if no cars are present without case-by-case approval.
Amazon complains that the regulations and slow licensure are curtailing their development progress, but the FAA’s motives are clear: protect the folks below the drones.
As optimistic as Amazon is, drone delivery is still a very new technology. You would not believe your eyes if ten million eighty-pound drones started dropping from their 400-foot altitude flight and bonking people over the head like frozen iguanas in Florida.
This is the future that the FAA seeks to prevent.
In fact, it’s questionable how effective drones will be in the first place. Sure, they can deliver packages within 30 minutes of the order, but only if it’s less than five pounds and you live within a few miles from the hangar — the drones’ batteries don’t last very long.
Amazon seems to be aspiring to the kind of instantaneous delivery only currently provided by Looney Tunes’ Acme Co. If this is really what they want to become, they need to do a whole lot more developing.
However, drone delivery may not be the future Amazon is hoping for — especially not in College Station.
I see no scenario in which this ends well for Amazon. It’s only a matter of time before we start seeing drones hanging off the walls of frat houses.
But who knows — maybe there is hope for drones. Maybe this really is the next step in online shopping.
My prediction?
I have a feeling Amazon will be racking up as much money in replacement fees as they saved by choosing College Station for one of their test cities.
In time, I expect this will lead to a new class of feral Mad-Maxian frat guys running around with slingshots, trying to shoot down each new loot box.
But what do I know? Only time will tell.
Charis Adkins is an English sophomore and opinion columnist for The Battalion.

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