Look Upon What Amazon Hath Designed, for It Soon Will Blanket the Sky

By Melanie Ehrenkranz on at

If you’ve ever gazed upon the sky and thought, look at all the space for more shit up there, then you are not alone. Amazon too sees our beautiful blue airspace as prime real estate for getting junk to you even faster.

On Wednesday, CEO of the Amazon’s worldwide consumer division Jeff Wilke unveiled at the company’s re:MARS Conference it’s Prime Air drone—an autonomous, electric drone that can allegedly fly up to 15 miles and deliver packages under five pounds to Prime customers in under 30 minutes. Wilke said in a press release that this programme will roll out “within months.”

According to Wilke, the drones will be equipped with “diverse sensors and advanced algorithms” as well as “proprietary computer-vision and machine learning algorithms” in order to identify both static and moving objects while they are making the trip to the recipient. The drone will also require “a small area around the delivery location that is clear of people, animals, or obstacles” in order to land—which makes, say, an apartment in a busy city pretty out of the question unless you are fortunate to have some type of helipad situation. The press release indicates that the drone will use “explainable stereo vision in parallel with sophisticated AI algorithms” to detect any humans or animals before it approaches the ground.

That’s a lot of buzzwords for technology that to date is hardly flawless—tech companies love to exalt their proprietary algorithms as a saving grace for many an issue, but we have yet to see one deployed without at least some error. In this instance, a glitchy or weaponised device can mean a hunk of metal accidentally soaring into your face. Or said hunk of metal being commandeered by hackers and not so accidentally flying into whatever.

Risks aside, even if Prime Air shakes out faultlessly, it indicates a future dystopia in which tiny machines are constantly whirring over our heads to simply speed up the delivery window. And this programme, as is noted in the press release, works in tandem with Amazon’s “world-class fulfilment and delivery network,” meaning already exploited workers are going to be worked even harder to fully realise this dream of… one-day shipping.

It’s a dream Amazon has had since at least 2013, in which it forecasted that its drone delivery system would roll out in “four or five years.” That timeline came and went, but now it seems we are just months out from a world in which packages of books, toilet paper, and AirPods clutter up the troposphere and Amazon workers continue to be worked to the bone.

Featured image: Amazon