Amazon's Future Frontier: Drones or 3-D Printers?

By: Natalie Mootz | March 10, 2015 (Edited July 7, 2017)


For Amazon, the new frontier is shipping. But how will the brave new world of product delivery unfold? Will the revolution be delivered by drones, zooming above our heads? Or will it be created from scratch by a 3-D printer in a truck parked around the corner?

These are the cool visions of the future that Amazon's CEO, Jeff Bezos, gets to contemplate on a daily basis. His first big shipping idea was Amazon Prime Air which promised that drones would bring us lots of low-weight goodies within 30 minutes of ordering them. And they didn't have to be pizza-based products! The sky would be dotted with these little guys whirring around with only our consumer happiness in mind, thoughtfully leaving packages on our patios, like mini-Santas with soot-aversion.

But, alas, for poor Mr. Bezos, drones are so 2013. Especially since the FAA's announcement of the limiting proposed flight rules for drones.

So he's moved on. Or branched out. Or opened up a (second?) hole in the space-time continuum so that he can pursue all ideas simultaneously. Even though in May 2013, Bezos pooh-poohed the feasibility of deploying 3-D printers, it appears he's changed his tune in 2015 because Amazon recently filed patent applications for 3-D printing delivery trucks.

It makes sense if you think about it. One of the biggest perks of Amazon Prime is the free 2-day shipping option. If Amazon wants to increase the margins around free shipping, the next logical step is to reduce the cost of it -- and the cost of shipping is directly tied to the speed with which an item can be delivered. If you could print a customized item on demand, you can not only deliver faster but you can also free up warehousing space.

Maybe the 3-D printing thing will work out. Or maybe Amazon's lobbyists can make more headway on the drone front. But let's not forget about one secret ace that Bezos has up his sleeve: In 2013, Amazon won patent approval for "anticipatory delivery." Amazon claims that it could allow the company to more quickly get items to their shipping centers based on a customer's earlier purchases and searches.

So if you need a job, keep your eye on Amazon. Maybe soon they'll be posting employment opportunities for precogs.

Check out our reviews of Amazon and other online bookstores here.




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Written by Natalie Mootz

Natalie has been writing for the web since dinosaurs roamed the earth. Or at least since dinosaurs achieved blogging technology. She's also written for and Joystiq.

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