Letter from the Editor 

Been there, drone that.

click to enlarge ht_amazon_prime_drone_jef_131202_16x9_992.jpg

It was a beautiful summer evening. The sun was falling low and orange over the Mississippi, creating a deep, warm light through the city. Cicadas were chirring, hidden high in the old oaks of Midtown. Purple martins and nighthawks circled above, picking off insects in the pale night sky. The man sat on his front porch, sipping a cold lager, waiting.

He heard it before he saw it, a distant mechanical humming. He felt a surge of excitement. It was coming. It would soon be here. And then, as if conjured by distant sorcery, it appeared, just above the treetops, hovering, searching. The man wanted to shout, "Here! Over here!" but he resisted. After a few seconds, the airship descended, coming in low like a bumble bee seeking clover, and landed on his front lawn.

"Pizza's here!" he shouted to his wife inside. "About damn time," he muttered, as he took the aromatic, still-warm box from the steely claws of the Domino's drone ...

Okay, George Orwell, I'm not. But if the plan outlined Sunday by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on 60 Minutes comes to fruition, delivery drones will be a common sight in the skies of Memphis and other urban areas by 2015.

Of course, it won't happen, at least not in the next two years. Tech and aviation experts are dismissing the idea that drones — now considered useful only for surveillance and accidentally bombing wedding parties in the Middle East — will soon be dropping off your new pants from J. Crew.

Even for a decided non-expert like me, the idea seems absurd and unworkable. Bezos says his drones would operate within a 10-mile radius. That means you'd have to have distribution sites or warehouses in every major city. They'd have to be staffed with people to load and program dozens of drones and send them out with the proper package to the right address. This is cheaper and more practical than one guy in a truck with 100 packages? No way.

And let's say the FAA does by some miracle approve drones for commercial use. If Amazon has them, you can bet Zappos, Macy's, Bass Pro, and every other major retailer will want them. The skies of America's cities would be filled with drones, destroying the peace of a summer night, scaring the birds, silencing the cicadas, and disturbing the peace. And here in the South, there's no way people wouldn't be using them for target practice. Think about it: Every time you hit one, you get a prize. Irresistible.

The only selling point for drones is that they will get your package to you faster. Bezos says he wants to deliver your Amazon package in 30 minutes or less. But what could you possibly need from Amazon in less than a half-hour? The newest iteration of 50 Shades of Grey? The latest Miley Cyrus CD? I don't think so.

The only answer that makes sense is ... pizza.

So it's settled. The United States will limit drones to pizza delivery. I think we all can live with that.

Bruce VanWyngarden
brucev@memphisflyer.com

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