Murphy’s Law – Episode II: Attack of the drones

Joel Murphy

Joel Murphy

Usually when we hear the word “drones,” it’s in connection to the coordinated strikes the United States military orchestrates to take out targets with the unmanned aircrafts. So it’s terrifying to imagine thousands of the little robotic killing machines flying overhead here in America. But in the next five years, that could very well be a common sight.

Last month, the Federal Aviation Administration published a 74-page plan to allow unmanned drones to fly over American soil. According to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, as many as 7,500 drones could be in the air in the next five years. The FAA is currently in the process of selecting test sites in six different states for manufacturers to bring drones to allow experts to test out the crafts and write the rules for their use.

Unsurprisingly, more than 80 law enforcement agencies have gotten permission from the FAA to fly their own drones. And the academic community is testing drones for weather forecasting and agricultural use. But last night on 60 Minutes another group announced plans to implement drones … Amazon.com.

In a segment on the news show, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced plans for Prime Air, a new service that would use drones, also referred to as “octocopters,” to pick up packages from Amazon’s fulfillment centers moments after a customer orders them and getting the package to the customer in under 30 minutes. The service is limited to objects under five pounds (which Bezos said comprises 86 percent of orders), so you don’t have to worry about robot planes flying refrigerators or pianos overhead. And the customer has to be within 10 miles of a fulfillment center in order to be a part of the program.

According to Amazon: “One day, Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today.”

You can see a demo of the new program below …

I have a lot of questions about this new project.

First and foremost: how did the average 60 Minutes viewer handle this development? I’m pretty sure no one under the age of 100 watches that show, so I can only assume their average viewer grabbed their Jitterbugs and ordered Old Glory insurance before the metal drones break into their houses and start stealing their medicine.

Secondly: how accurate are these drones going to be? The demo shows the package being gingerly lowered onto the customer’s front lawn, but how many waffle irons and universal remotes end up on people’s roofs or through the windshields of their cars? How long until someone is struck by a rogue copy of GTA V?

Third: how long before the government starts disguising their spy drones as Amazon delivery octocopters? “The Johnsons must be on some sort of spending spree, that drone has been hovering around their house for the past six hours.”

And finally: am I within 10 miles of an Amazon fulfillment center? Because, let’s be honest, if given the chance, I would totally use this service.

I’m already an Amazon Prime member. I love it. It combines two of my favorite things in the entire world: avoiding crowds and not having to put on pants. The fact that for a yearly fee I can get free two-day shipping on items is amazing. I buy just about everything from Amazon. Stumbling out of my house in my PJs to grab my latest purchase is heavenly. The thought of getting that gratification instantly is pretty damn exciting.

But I can’t shake the feeling that I should be skeptical of this. After all, I’m the guy who uses this column as my soapbox to warn of the oncoming robot revolution. I’ve warned about cable companies wanting to spy on you. So I don’t really feel right endorsing robots that fly through your neighborhood and are capable of dropping things off at your doorstep. There’s potential for these crafts to be hacked or misused or to have them malfunction. It’s a dangerous gamble in the name of convenience.

Not to mention the fact that this could be the final nail in the coffin of the United States Postal Service. The government organization is already just barely staying alive as is. Part of their current strategy to remain relevant in a world of electronic mail is to ramp up their package deliver services, since sites like Amazon currently provide them the most potential for revenue. If the drones take off, a lot of people could be out of jobs.

So it’s safety, privacy and job security versus my antisocial tendencies and my desire to be pantsless. Frankly, right now, it’s too close to call. Though check with me again in a few years when this program is underway and I’m really dying to get my hands on a TARDIS cookie jar on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. Follow Joel on Twitter @FreeMisterClark or email him at murphyslaw@hobotrashcan.com.

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