Amazon’s drone delivery spectacle isn’t really about drones

Take me to your leader.
Take me to your leader.
Image: Amazon
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

It will be many years, if ever, before you’ll receive Amazon deliveries by drone. But that’s not really the point behind Amazon’s “Prime Air” push, is it?

This week, Amazon asked the US Federal Aviation Administration for permission to test its drone system outdoors (pdf). Commercial use of drones is still mostly banned in the US, and part of Amazon’s appeal is that it “would prefer to keep the focus, jobs, and investment of this important research and development initiative in the United States.”

Perhaps someday drone delivery will be an actual business for Amazon—who knows. But the stunt has more immediate benefits.

Amazon has already exploited the drones’ public-relations value in a bizarre “60 Minutes” segment last year. Next: As The Information writer Amir Efrati notes, this could be an excellent recruiting technique, as Amazon fiercely competes for engineering and design talent with other tech giants and the allure of fast-growing startups. “See, we’re at least as cool as Google!”

Lastly, it might even help Amazon in its discussions with its existing shipping providers, which are among its biggest cost centers. “Keep us happy, or we’ll make you obsolete!” Google has employed similar head-fakes, such as its Google Fiber internet access project, which seems as much about keeping cable and telecom companies on their toes as anything.