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Wednesday 23 July 2014

Amazon drones: nine ways it could go horribly wrong

Daniel Johnson, Daily Telegraph

Published 03/12/2013|07:58

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Amazon is hoping to use drone aircraft called Prime Air for deliveries
Amazon is hoping to use drone aircraft called Prime Air for deliveries

Welcome to the future: Amazon is testing delivering packages using drones.

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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said on Sunday the unmanned vehicles could deliver packages weighing up to five pounds (2.3kg), which represents roughly 86 per cent of packages Amazon delivers.

The drones will pick up items from Amazon's distribution centres and fly them to customer's homes using GPS, but only within a 10-mile radius. Mr Bezos admitted is "looks like science fiction" but said "we can do half-hour delivery".

Some have dismissed the announcement as a PR stunt, the typically grouchy Guardian among others, but what could be some of the terrifying consequences of the technology going wrong?

Here are nine potential disasters waiting to happen.

1) Hacking

We've had phone hacking, email hacking, computer hacking, so what's to stop drone hacking?

Those with nefarious intentions could obtain all your personal Amazon data by tapping into the delivery drone.

 

2) Package falls from the sky

It sounds like something out of Tom and Jerry, but if the reliability of Amazon's delivery times are anything to go by, then there's a good chance something mechanical on these drones will break eventually. Even worse, what happens if the batteries run out?

<noframe>Twitter: Jenna Bilotta - Over under odds on how long it takes for a "amazon drone hit me" lawsuit?</noframe>

And what will consumers be left with? It will be raining anonymous brown packages before you know it. Thank godness the packages being delivered will weigh a maximum of five pounds.

3) Theft

Just because something is airborne, that does not mean it is not susceptible to theft.

You can imagine hundreds of toy aircraft-trained criminals swarming around Amazon's distribution centres with their remote controls in hand, ready to seize upon drones taking off from their Amazon base.

There is also the simple fact that because it's unlikely Amazon's drones will be able to deliver packages through letter boxes, they will have to be placed outside a customer's house, as the company's video shows.

If a customer is not ready therefore, or the delivery is late, an opportunistic thief could be on hand to pinch the parcel and make a quick escape.

Thieves like the one below will be rubbing their hands with glee at the Amazon Prime announcement.

4) The weather

If the weather can ground Boeing 747s, which can deploy 43,500 pounds of thrust per engine, then even at their low level of flight, the weather can easily stop an Amazon drone from taking off, or at least blow it off course.

It is difficult to imagine Amazon customers being satisfied after having selected the Amazon Prime delivery option, they are told they will have to wait longer than half an hour just because it is a bit windy.

5) Friendly fire

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the announcement was made in the US on CBS's "60 Minutes", people immediately took to Twitter to speculate whether the drones will be legitimate target practice.

It is a legitimate question: what will Amazon do if someone shoots down a drone and a customer's package along with it?

6) Lost bearings

If postmen can get lost or struggle to find a house, then a drone can too.

Call me a cynic, but just because Amazon's drones use GPS that does not mean they won't get lost.

And what will Amazon do then? Beyond the drone figuring out a way to return to base, and have another go once it has been reprogrammed, it's not immediately obvious.

7) Diversion

Worse than getting lost, what if someone was able to manipulate where the drones deliver their packages?

Whole communities could be torn apart as the resident IT genius uncovers a way to hack into Amazon's delivery system and begins pocketing everyone's purchases for himself.

8) Airspace restrictions

We have been hearing lots in recent weeks about the US being at loggerheads with China after flying through what the Chinese claim is their airspace.

Although Amazon's drones will only have a radius of 10 miles, if they are diverted or blown off course then there is every chance they could enter into the airspace of a hostile country, triggering an almighty diplomatic spat.

9) UFO spotters struggle to cope

It is difficult to judge which of these dangers is the most serious, but the risk to UFO spotters health and safety has to be one of the gravest concerns.

Either their passion will become meaningless, as hundreds of drones can easily be spotted in the sky, or the excitement will simply become too much to bear.

Disrupt the equilibrium of UFO spotters at your peril, Jeff Bezos.

Telegraph.co.uk

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