Wednesday, December 4, 2013

It's Raining Spam!

Amazon is making the dreams of reality-averse tech dweebs come true just in time for Christmas!

"And look! I brought cookies!"

Not this Christmas of course, but one soon to come. Amazon honcho Bezos expects his little octocopter to be delivering DVD sets across America in about five to seven years, a stary-eyed fantasy echoed by every pinhead from Gizmodo to Forbes.

The closest to skepticism any of the big name press gets is fretting over whether or not the government squares or the luddite prols will go in for this cool new thing. Because that's what really matters when converting sophisticated military hardware to commercial use - ad slogans. What the well paid pundits don't want to talk about is the biggest problem with this scheme -


That most boring of military sciences. The thing Lee slept through at West Point, along with all the other romantic dunderheads who signed on with the pro-slavery side. And who were thoroughly stomped by Ulysses S. Grant - 'cuz he aced the logistics class and went on to make sure his troops had enough food, enough shoes, and more than enough bullets.

And logistics is what makes drones a superb weapon system and a terrible commercial delivery system.

Let's start with the obvious - how do drones go from point A to point B? They ain't programmed for it - not yet, thank Christ - and so there's this little control room full of monitors and keyboards and joysticks, like a bleeding edge video game cave from the '80s. Two operators steer the little drone through the sky, worrying about all the little things any other pilot worries about, except for dying in a fiery crash.

Outside the control room, you've got a ground crew. They clean and refuel the drone, make sure its flaps and engine work properly, all the same stuff as your local mechanic except that one little mistake means the drone plunges out of the air, halfway to point B. Or maybe the ground crew does everything right and it still plunges out of the air due to inclement weather.

All these logistical concerns cost money. Not even close to the millions wasted on the same for jet fighters - that are even more fragile, less agile, and built around a squishy human - but still more than some scale model enthusiast at the park could ever hope to afford. And, as explained, even with everything going right a drone can still miss its target or crash. It's used anyway because the benefits of doing so outweigh the costs. For starters, ya don't lose a very expensive USAF officer if it gets shot down.

But that's war, not business. Assuming all the legal and marketing hurdles are cleared by the octocopter, Amazon is looking at a steep premium to do what guys in vans can do with more reliability and much less money. I've got nothing against robots doing all the menial work - so we can all kick back and just plain kick this "honest days work" nonsense but that's another rant - though I just can't see that Amazon Air will ever make it off the ground. Too expensive, too many moving parts, too much work when there's already a viable alternative.

Not that the tech dweebs care. If it's possible, who cares if it's useful?

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