So Amazon filed a patent (a couple of years ago) for a floating warehouse that could help it deliver more stuff to us poor stuff-deprived consumers down here on terra firma.
The surprise here is perhaps that it took so long to learn about it (top marks to CB Insights analyst Zoe Leavitt). It may never happen, of course, but with Amazon having successfully completed its first drone-based delivery just weeks ago, it can’t be ignored.
Chances are it will happen – eventually. But whether eventually in this case means that weird space-age place know as ‘the future’ (ie at least the year 2070) or whether it means a couple of years’ time is open to question, especially given the fast pace of tech developments these days. Let’s face it, in a world where experts reckon our sex lives will be robot-based within a couple of decades, flying warehouses seem well, fairly normal.
There are lots of tech issues to overcome, of course. But what nobody seems to be talking about so far, both in terms of mass drone deliveries and warehouses-in-the-sky, is the massive amount of consumer and government objections that would have to be overcome first. The odd drone delivery is fine but imagine a world where the sky above you is darkened by giant warehouses and buzzing drones like plagues of benevolent locusts.
I’m not trying to be luddite here (heaven forbid) but these are the boring bits that need to be dealt with. As with any tech revolution, it’s the dull stuff rather than the sexy headlines that needs to be dealt with before the real revolution can happen.
Talking of boring stuff, there’s one big (and very dull) issue that a floating Amazon warehouse could address if it ever gets off the ground (pun intended). That’s lack of warehouse space.
A report this week from City law firm Addleshaw Goddard said over 18m sq ft of new industrial space is needed every year i Britain alone to satisfy exponential e-commerce growth and demand from parcel delivery firms. But only 3.5m sq ft of warehousing is due to be built over the next 12 months. And there’s only a tiny amount of existing warehouse space currently on the market.
If Amazon bypasses the ground and puts its warehouses in the sky, problem solved. Well, not quite, but it will go some way to dealing with the space drought.
The fact that the patent was filed in 2014 shows how far in advance retailers are thinking. But just what is Amazon thinking? How does it see these warehouses playing out?
Its patent says they could be located at places where it expects heavy demand – say a festival or a sports stadium – where demand for band memorabilia, T-shirts, snacks, even wet wipes could surge.
The drones it would dispatch, which at present can travel for only about 10 miles or 30 minutes, would descend rapidly using virtually no power, then would be returned via a shuttle that could also deliver new stock. The shuttle would also deliver the dull stuff like fuel for the airships from which the warehouse would be suspended.
For most of the time the warehouses would sit at 45,000 ft above the ground, taking them well out of the way of commercial aircraft. But they could come down to 2,000 ft when required and that could mean advertisers plastering their brands on them (and you thought advertising on roundabouts or on your, on your apps or the web pages you browse was about as intrusive as it could get).
It’s a bold vision of the future. I wonder how long it will take to become reality?