Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos had everyone checking it wasn't April already when, live on TV, he announced that Amazon's planning to roll out a half-hour delivery function using drones. But as much as our cousins across the pond might already love their drones for blowing people up, the UK is actually the perfect place to test a unmanned delivery service. Here's why.
The UK's population density is almost 10 times higher than that of the US -- over 650 people (or all of the House of Commons) fit into every square mile, on average. That's massively important because the drones that Mr Bezos plans on using will only service a 10 mile radius -- so, if people are more spread out, there's fewer DVDs Amazon can deliver, and the drones will be sat chilling their rotors all day long.
It's the same reason the UK has a one-day postal service and cheap mobile phone plans -- when your business is all about serving as many people as possible in a given area, the more customers you can serve with the same amount of hardware, the better.
Which brings me neatly onto the second point -- we're already used to buying things off the internet. Quick and cheap shipping, combined with a high average rate of internet access (and the fact that shopping online means we can shop at work), means that around half of our Christmas shopping will be done online this year. In fact, most of our shopping in stores is for stuff you have to see in person (like clothing), or for stuff you need right now, rather than tomorrow.
And even that category is already being eroded. Some high-street chains like Argos and Maplin partner with Shutl, a company that offers three-hour deliveries using local couriers. It's a great service, but a bit costly -- something that could be solved with Amazon's drones, and their sheer size.
The Civil Aviation Authority, the government bods who control flying things in the UK, have proven quite progressive with drone technology. They've granted over 160 drone licenses to date, including to a bunch of non-government organisations like newspapers and golf courses. Even better, the UK is home to the only privately-owned airspace that can be used for testing civilian UAVs.
Admittedly, their current rules wouldn't let Amazon just get a permit and start operating -- at the moment, drones are meant to stay within their operators' line of sight at all times -- but the CAA's willingness to adapt seems friendly enough. At the very least, it's better than the US Federal Aviation Authority, which is notorious for dragging its heels on everything.
When TfL announced that it's trying to shut ticket offices across the network, rumours immediately shot up that Amazon wants to take over the offices for local parcel deliveries. What that means, though, is that in London at least, Amazon will have the sort of local presence that it would need to make the drone thing a success. Just whack a droneport in there (is that a word?), and we're good to go.
One of the main criticisms already being levelled at Amazon's plan is that any irate redneck with a 12-gauge shotgun and a desire to hang a drone on his wall could quite easily blast Amazon's drones out of the sky. While this is still a possibility in the UK, the much tougher gun laws should mean that Jeff's flying machines should be safe, just so long as they steer clear of the closest pheasant shoot.
Let's be honest, the perfect use for a drone that can deliver 2.3kg's worth of cargo in half an hour is undoubtedly the tea-supply emergency. No more coin-toss for who has to go out in the rain; no more dodgy milk with the sell-by date that's been dubiously Sharpied on.
Other excellent uses: an Amazon-Greggs partnership; second duty as pigeon-killers in Trafalgar Square; 24-hour alcohol delivery service.