Americans Mixed on Whether They Want Drone Delivery

A viral video shows a giant blimp-like flying machine with an Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) logo deploying dozens of drones. It looks like a scene from a science-fiction movie -- one where people wear matching jumpsuits as they battle the technology that has taken over the world.

It's a vaguely terrifying image, even if you consider that the drones might be bearing toothpaste, burritos, or other benign items. The video gives a glimpse of a future that's somewhere between exciting and frightening -- but it's not quite what it seems.

This isn't Amazon test footage or even something shot without the company knowing it. Instead, it's a fake. It's a video made by a video artist in Hiroshima, Japan who uses the Twitter handle zozi009. This fake video touched off real emotion.

That did not stop the video from getting 400,000 views on the original Tweet alone and likely millions more through retweets, as well as multiple articles covering the post. This may have been an April Fool's day prank of sort but it really touched off actual emotion.

Do Americans want drone delivery?

It's easy to see why the idea of drone delivery raises different emotions in people. On one hand, it's super convenient. Imagine realizing that you're out of paper towels but you can order them via Alexa or through a few clicks on your phone. Then, a drone drops them at your door in an hour or two.

On the other hand, the idea of a sky filled with robot-controlled drones is a bit scary. It's hard to say exactly why, but images like the fake one above -- which is based on a real patent Amazon filed for -- make it clear that drone delivery won't be subtle.

Whether the benefits of drone delivery outweigh the negatives remains a major question. That's why the United States Post Office's Office of the Inspector General conducted a 2016 survey to gauge how the American public feels about drone delivery.

The report found that most Americans (75%) believe that drone delivery will be common by 2021. It also showed that more Americans either disliked the idea of drone delivery (34%) or were neutral on it (23%) than supported it (44%). Only 32% of those surveyed believed drone delivery would be safe, while 37% felt it wouldn't be. The rest had no opinion.

It's a risk

In a broad sense, the survey showed that consumers aren't exactly against drone delivery -- they just don't believe the technology has been perfected. More than half (56%) liked the idea of getting quick deliveries, but 46% were afraid of a malfunction and 14% were worried that drones would be intentionally misused.

The biggest takeaway may be that consumers aren't ready for drone delivery yet. That could have changed in the roughly three years since the survey was conducted, but that's not likely because nearly all drone testing has been done off the public radar. Changing sentiment would require public displays of how drones would not only work, but how they would not create a scary dystopian skyline. Until they do that, it seems likely that using drones would drag down public sentiment about any company that moves forward with them as the USPS survey showed.

Consumer sentiment about Amazon, Alphabet's Google, UPS, FedEx, and the United States Postal service would fall by at least 24% should the companies start using drones, according to the survey. Of course, it's easy to have a negative perception about something you haven't actually seen being used. Once any of these companies deploys drones -- likely in a rural area -- it's possible, maybe even likely, that the public will feel better about the technology.

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