Droning in

The next wave in retailing will be powered by next hour delivery. So, Amazon is rolling out drones.

Amid the various uproars that drones have been causing in the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has dropped this one: little eight-rotor craft being developed by the company will be winging their way across US cities, delivering little yellow pails loaded with orders to homes just 30 minutes after the customer pressed the pay button. But, appearing on the TV show 60 Minutes, Bezos did not elaborate on obvious questions. Such as: how do you shoo off a drone that insists on making a wrong delivery? If you get the protocol wrong, it just might arm that Hellfire missile.

A desperate battle has broken out in the fulfilment industry over ownership of the last mile. As usual, the food industry took off first. TacoCopter will be available in the San Francisco Bay Area and LobsterCopter is planned for the East Coast. In big cities, eBay Now is trying to steal a march on Amazon, which invented and leads the rapid fulfilment industry. eBay is putting feet on the street which run about and do your shopping for you, delivering in minutes rather than days. It makes a lot of sense for Amazon to invest in drone copter research because next-day delivery is now routine. The next wave in retailing will be powered by next-hour delivery. Only a mechanised last mile can assure that and if Amazon is to stay ahead, it must roll out drones before supermarkets take to the air to reclaim their former glory.

But machines are the American way. India prefers to deploy people. Recall the Six Sigma-like efficiency of Mumbai's dabbawalas? What if the delivery boy from the neighbourhood kirana store offers quicker gratification than Amazon's machines? He's safer, too no missile capability, guaranteed.

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