Roy Exum: Are Drones Coming Here?

Tuesday, December 03, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

As I watched “60 Minutes” on Sunday night, it didn’t take long for my imagination to kick in. Jeff Bezos and his giant company Amazon was featured during one of the news show’s ever-delicious segments and CBS commentator Charlie Rose made it fascinating to watch. But Bezos, who came across as a fun-loving guy, had promised Charlie a surprise announcement and, towards the end, Charlie yelped “Oh my God!” when he saw what the surprise was before we at-home viewers did.

Quite simply, our Amazon fulfillment center will soon have a huge fleet of drones. Can you imagine a bunch of little “octocopters” flying all around Chattanooga? I mean hundreds of them, filling the skies like a flock of Sandhill cranes, dropping off packages within 30 minutes of the time they were actually ordered. Bezos said within three or four years it is possible and – what’s more – I believe the guy.

An octocopter is a platform that has eight, helicopter-like rotors. Beneath the drone are four arms that cling to a bright yellow box that will carry an item up to five pounds inside. And once the drone is programmed using GPS coordinates, the drone gently lands outside a customer’s house, drops the box the last inch or two to the ground, and then flies back to the fulfillment center for the next order.

CBS showed footage of a drone in action and, as Bezos explained that 86 percent of what Amazon now ships weighs less than five pounds, he said it was just a matter of time before he could leave an order on somebody’s front porch. “I know this looks like science fiction,” the Amazon chief giggled before adding, “It’s not.”

Bezos cautioned the project is still very much in the research-and-development stage but that his wizards believe the current drones Amazon is using can easily deliver within a 10-mile radius of a fulfillment center, and that is as birds fly. “In urban areas, you could actually cover very significant portions of the population. And so, it won’t work for everything; you know, we’re not gonna’ deliver kayaks or table saws this way. These are electric motors, so this is all electric; it’s very green, it’s better than driving trucks around.”

Bezos explained the drones will be autonomous; instead of a guy sitting in front of a monitor skillfully driving the drone, the machine itself will be programmed with precise GPS coordinates. Once his team of engineers makes sure the drone won’t land on somebody’s head, Bezos’s philosophy – as he illustrated at several times in the interview, is “Why not?”

Charlie pressed him for a time line, asking when we might actually see the drones swarm out of a fulfillment center like a determined squadron of bees. “I’m an optimist, Charlie. I know it can’t be before 2015, because that’s the earliest we could get the rules from the FAA. My guess is that’s probably a little optimistic. But could it be, you know, four, five years? I think so. It will work, and it will happen, and it’s gonna be a lot of fun.”

Has your imagination kicked in yet? You are out of ink for your printer. We all know for every printer there is a different cartridge. You merely go to an Amazon page, fill out the order with your credit card and – presto – 30 minutes later you hear the drone at the front door. Your printer ink is in the waterproof box and you are back in business.

At the start of the show, Rose said Amazon now has 225 million customers on file. And he explained that yesterday – already called Cyber Monday – the 96 Amazon fulfillment centers, the newest buildings bigger than 80 football fields, would process over 300 different orders every second of every minute of every hour in the day.

In Seattle and, more recently, Los Angeles “Amazon Fresh” is making same-day deliveries of food and the biggest part of the giant companies is its Web Services division, where a “cloud” serves many large companies, ranging from NetFlix and the clandestine CIA. Charlie jumped at that, asking, “Does that present any conflict for you, the fact that you provide the cloud that the CIA uses for its data?”

Bezos shook his head as he calmly answered, “We’re building what’s called a private cloud for them, Charlie, because they don’t want to be on the public cloud.” But what he didn’t say was that Amazon can handle a very large part of America’s Internet needs with ease, just as it can send a sea of drones from its Chattanooga and Cleveland fulfillment centers.

This isn’t science fiction, as Bezos said. “It’s not,” he promised and if I were 20 again and in college, I’d go into drone management because as famed football coach George Allen said long ago, “The future is now.”

Drones carrying small packages may be in Chattanooga within a few years
Drones carrying small packages may be in Chattanooga within a few years
- Photo2 by 60 Minutes

Chuck Is Doing His Job

Four years ago we conservatives sent Chuck Fleischmann to Washington to basically say no to Obama and every program he tried to sneak through.  He did such a good job at this we sent him back two years ago. Now this young whippersnapper comes along and wants to go to Washington under the Republican title to cross the isles and negotiate with Obama and the Democrats. Is ... (click for more)

Please Vote For Vince Dean - And Response

I need to take this opportunity to speak out on behalf of Vince Dean, who is running for Criminal Court clerk.  Vince served as a councilmember and as the mayor of East Ridge, where I was employed for many years.  During Vince's time on the Council, Vince stood out with his keen ability to manage the budget.  He reorganized the structure of the departments by reducing ... (click for more)

EPB Files With FCC To Expand TV, Phone, Internet Offerings Outside Electric Service Area

 EPB announced Thursday that it has filed a petition to the FCC "in an effort to respond to neighboring communities’ requests for access to the company’s gigabit enabled high-speed Internet service." Officials said, "EPB offers high-speed Internet access, video programming and voice services using a fiber optic communications network that allows the company to deliver these ... (click for more)

Black Creek Developers Say They "Followed The Rules" On $9 Million TIF: To Continue Project

The developers of the Black Creek project at Aetna Mountain said Thursday they "complied precisely by the rules when we applied for and received approval of the TIF district." Doug Stein said the group plans to continue on with the project, which he said earlier would include the creation of a small town on a huge undeveloped tract on the mountain above Black Creek (formerly ... (click for more)

Stone Leaves South Pitt For Coaching Positions At Boyd-Buchanan

The possibility of a career move was definitely in Wes Stone’s future. The one he took wasn’t necessarily on his radar screen just a few weeks ago. Stone, assistant football and head baseball coach at South Pittsburg, has left the Pirates for teaching/coaching positions at Boyd-Buchanan. The 38-year-old Stone, who already is working with the Bucs’ football team as a defensive ... (click for more)

Montgomery Stops Lookouts Thursday, 6-4

The Chattanooga Lookouts jumped out to an early lead, but committed four errors on their way to a 6-4 loss at the hands of the Montgomery Biscuits. Recap Lookouts' center fielder Darnell Sweeney started the game on a positive note for Chattanooga, leading off the bottom of the first with a single. Noel Cuevas followed up Sweeney's single with a line drive base hit of ... (click for more)