Amazon’s Drones May Collect Valuable Data On Their Fly-Overs
While retailers, carriers and regulators are still trying to figure out the details of safe drone delivery, Amazon.com is already thinking about what data the drones can collect while dropping off packages.
Amazon has patented technology that allows a drone to scan and collect data from houses it passes on its flight path, according to Inc. Among the hypothetical uses for the technology are notifying customers about a damaged roof on their home or recommending a service to attend to sick-looking trees in a yard. The patent suggests text, email and on-site notification as viable ways to communicate the findings to the customer.
It’s not clear where the lines should be drawn in terms of privacy. If a truck drove by collecting information about individual homes and contacting the inhabitants, for instance, that might set off some red flags. People do seem, however, to have grown accustomed to the use of photographs of their properties on websites like Google Maps.
In a recent online discussion, some on the RetailWire BrainTrust saw the general public possibly buying into the use of data that Amazon’s patent would facilitate.
“As with other personal data and privacy debates, I suspect this will come down to the value exchange,” said Sunny Kumar, head of experience design at Tribal Worldwide London. “There are many community level services they could deliver, from live neighborhood watch to recommending other relevant products and services.”
It’s not hard to imagine this technology collecting more in-depth data at the point of drop-off or even by peering through windows, or delivering recommendations based on fly-by data to in-home Alexa devices.
“Moral considerations aside, there’s massive potential in this for Amazon,” said Jett McCandless, founder and CEO of project44. “Amazon can leverage information about your vehicles, the exterior of your home and any property visible from the outside, and use that to market related products to people. They can even obtain information about when people are home, when they are outside, etc. There’s no telling what other ideas they’ll come up with as they bring in rounds of data and begin analyzing it. That said, one has to wonder where it ends.”
“Drone data collection is useful in certain cases, like commercial properties and stadiums that require a lot of maintenance from a big team, but collecting personal data in suburban areas crosses the line,” said Cristian Grossman, CEO of Beekeeper.
BrainTrust member Dan Frechtling, SVP of product and marketing at G2 Web Services likewise saw more potential for business use than for private customers.
“This may be more of a B2B play than B2C,” said Mr. Frechtling. “Aerial residential information can be used for lead generation for construction, remodeling, landscaping and even insurance claims. Such geographic data is fragmented right now, so Amazon’s ability to fill in the gaps and provide up-to-the-minute information provides an advantage when paired with archives from existing aerial imagery companies.”
Since the idea of last-mile delivery by drone entered the public mind, Amazon has continued to churn out high-concept drone-related patents. Some of its other concepts are a beehive-style structure to house idle drones and using trains as mobile maintenance and launching stations.
But with this particular innovation, some BrainTrust members saw the concept as being mostly hype.
“Theoretically, this is a great idea, but there is so much distance between reality and theory, that it’s almost silly,” wrote Ken Lonyai, strategist and tech innovator. “One basic assumption is that customers want Amazon evaluating their life needs from every direction and selling them anything they need including roof repair and hedge trimming.”
“Time will tell, but I don’t buy it,” Mr. Lonyai said.