What is better for small shopping trips: Amazon’s drones versus walkable neighborhoods

Delivering in the final mile is a problem. So what is better in combatting this issue: Amazon using drones or walkable neighborhoods?

“You have the technology that can help the most difficult part of delivery: The last-mile problem. You have a lightweight package going to a single destination. You cannot aggregate packages. It’s still way too complicated and expensive. It’s very energy inefficient,” Raptopoulous sad. “UAVs or drones deal with the problem of doing this very efficiently with extremely low cost and high reliability. It’s the best answer to the problem. The ratio of your vehicle to your payload is very low.”

Part of the argument is that our current last-mile delivery system can seem kind of ridiculous, at least from an energy efficiency point of view.

As Raptopoulous put it: “In the future, we think it’s going to make more sense to have a bottle of milk delivered to your house from Whole Foods rather than get in your car and drive two tons of metal on a congested road to go get it.”

Of course, we could also build walkable neighborhoods that don’t require driving as often as we do, but walkability requires density—and even places like San Francisco sometimes balk at the sorts of buildings that entails. And we’ve got a lot of low-density infrastructure in place that isn’t going away anytime soon.

The conclusion here seems to be that building walkable neighborhoods would be a good solution but untenable in lots of places because many Americans don’t want that kind of density. I suspect New Urbanists and others would argue with that conclusion though adding density to urban and suburban neighborhoods does tend to bring out NIMBY responses.

So perhaps we could see these drones or cars as concessions to what Americans want: more privacy in their residences, more space, and to find technological solutions to get around the effect these kinds of neighborhoods produce. As the article notes, having lots of flying and landing drones could lead to problems but this might be preferable to asking people to live in different kinds of places.

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