Will Amazon drones invade Manatee neighborhoods from Ruskin?

cschelle@bradenton.comDecember 5, 2013 

Amazon Prime Air is designed to fly within a 10-mile radius from Amazon distribution warehouses for deleveries in 30 minutes or less, but it won't likely be seen in Ruskin. Photo provided

MANATEE

Amazon's clever publicity stunt with its delivery drones has led us all to daydream, including me.

Amazon will build one of its three new Florida distribution centers at the South Shore Corporate Park in Ruskin. So as Jeff Bezos opined on "60 Minutes" about his overly ambitious flying machines delivering in a 30-minute flying radius, that got me thinking: Where in Manatee County could these drones drop shipment?

Amazon insists it could have these drones buzzing in your neighborhood by 2015 if the FAA gives the OK (yeah, right).

If construction goes according to plan, the Ruskin warehouse near Interstate 75 and State Road 674 could be ready in time for 2014's Christmas season -- enough time for another crazy idea from Amazon to take hold.

It turns out the radius for Amazon Prime Air is estimated to be about 10 miles to deliver a package weighing up to 10 pounds, whether that's your Harry Potter Blu-ray box set or a fragile Christmas ornament that may plunge to its untimely fracture in your backyard.

The good news is the warehouse is far enough north into Ruskin to avoid most, if not all, Manatee County homes. I used an online mapping tool to draw a 10-mile radius around the warehouse, and the southern tip of the circle slightly touches Manatee County's border south of Butch Cassidy Trail.

The only way this could happen in Manatee is if Port Manatee gains significant business from Amazon, which it plans on doing, and Amazon needs to send some interoffice mail on the quick. Or maybe a special Amazon Prime Air launch pad direct from the port to serve Palmetto, Terra Ceia and house boats dropping anchor along the coast.

Homes in Apollo Beach, Sun City Center and campers at Little Manatee River State Park could all get shipments dropped from Ruskin, but not in Manatee. So even if Amazon gets these drones off the ground, folks in Parrish and Piney Point don't have to worry about moving.

This would actually be a cool idea to merge with Amazon's urban venture Amazon Fresh, which in Seattle and Los Angeles delivers groceries from the warehouse to your door. Why not here? Port Manatee is a major importer for tropical fruits and vegetables and importer and exporter for citrus juices.

Because I'm too lazy to drive to one of the 500 Publix stores within 10 miles, I might as well have a spaceship drop me a few slices of cantaloupes, pineapples and oranges for a snack.

It would be a safer bet to say Port Manatee could gain cruise liners and ferry service to Cuba before Amazon Prime buzzes around Manatee.

But of all the issues the unmanned Amazon drones would have here in Manatee, two words come to mind: bird strike.

Once one of those propellers buzz cuts a beloved pelican or sandhill crane, Amazon Prime Air will have its wings clipped.

I can also think of at least one inventive, safer delivery route for Amazon.

A friend living in New York tweeted out about a Nerf book launch event in the city, and I was sorely disappointed to find out that it was a debut for a book about Nerf history and not a competing slingshot technology developed by the toymaker to get books into hands faster.

At this point, I trust a 10-year-old kid toting a Nerf launcher attached to a copy of The Hunger Games more than an unmanned Amazon drone.

Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.

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