Amazon's Delivery Drones Could Be Sitting Ducks

The Future of Drones
Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI)'s Mini Panther drone at the AUS&R (Autonomous, Unmanned Systems & Robotics) 2013 Expo conference and exhibition in Rishon LeZion, Israel. Photographer: Hanan Isachar/Corbis

You probably already saw the "60 Minutes " segment or promotional video for Amazon's new delivery service via unmanned aerial vehicles. Although it won't happen for several years, the e-commerce giant is already testing drones that have eight external propellers and a central unit that houses most of the electronic components. They look a lot like the devices hobbyists have been assembling for years or buying ready-made from toy stores and even Amazon itself.

But when Amazon's Prime Air finally does launch, the drones may look more like the Air Mule, which was on display at the Autonomous Unmanned Systems and Robotics Expo in Tel Aviv last week. The unmanned chopper, developed by Israel-based Tactical Robotics, can take off and land vertically like Amazon's drone, but the propellers are contained within the main body.

Not having the propellers exposed is a "revolutionary" feature, according to David Harari, the chairman of Tactical Robotics who helped create some of the earliest drones. A self-contained copter should make the unit more durable and less prone to attack.

We can see why that would be important on the battlefield. When drones aren't stealthily killing people on the ground, they could also be hunting other unmanned vehicles in the air. In an interview with Bloomberg TV 's Elliott Gotkine, Harari predicted that in 20 to 30 years, drone-on-drone combat will be the norm. "Technically it's very difficult," he said.

This might sound like overkill for delivering AA batteries. Unless, of course, scenarios like the one tweeted by Brad Plumer, a reporter at Bezos's Washington Post , come true: "So basically free stuff from Amazon if you're a good shot with a rifle."