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12:02 AM Sat, Oct. 20th

Editorial: In the drone war, we'll all be combatants

Raise your hand if you, like me, think this whole Amazon drone delivery brouhaha was a stunt.

It was well done, but a stunt is a stunt. Think about it. The 60 Minutes piece came at the end of a long holiday weekend, and news was in short supply. The stage was being set for "Cyber Monday," the day dedicated to online Christmas shopping. And here's Amazon, the online retailer all other online retailers want to be, announcing that they want to have autonomous drones to deliver orders to your house in 30 minutes or less, a promise Domino's Pizza doesn't even make anymore.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was careful enough to say that this service is years away, that there's a lot to be worked out yet, from FAA rules to making sure that drones don't land on someone's head. Or crash into buildings. They won't have pilots, after all - just GPS coordinates. I think it's interesting that the video Amazon showed had their drone flying over an open field, not navigating the urban canyons of New York City.

Now, part of me says this idea will never go anywhere. But I admit that if this service existed, I would use it from time to time. For instance, if I ran out of contact lens solution, having some flown to me would be far better than my blind eyes trying to navigate Stockton Hill Road.

I think, however, that Bezos is not fully envisioning the future, even though he talks a lot about the pace of innovation displacing existing firms.

We don't need Amazon drones.

We'll have our own.

Just imagine never having to go to the grocery store again. Send the drone! It'll have to have a basket, of course, and mechanical arms to open doors in the freezer section and grab bananas and such. A bar code on the machine will bill your purchases to your account, and the drone whizzes back to your door.

Sure, it'll be weird seeing drones plucking grapes, juice and paper towels from the aisles, but we'll get used to it.

Our local restaurants should jump on this bandwagon, too. The pizza places deliver; why shouldn't we be able to order tacos or burgers or fajitas to our doors?

That would be a sight to behold. It's late, I want tacos, I order some, and lo and behold, in very short order there's a drone at my door dropping off tacos. What would be really cool is some parachute technology so that my tacos or pizza or sandwich would waft gently on the breeze into my front yard.

Inevitably, though, problems will arise.

It would only take a few modifications to turn these friendly service drones into truly "predator" drones. It would be wrong, but it will happen: After all, who could resist taking out a low-flying aircraft carrying something tasty? There would be drones with battering rams on them, or even firepower. Our skies would be filled with dogfighting drones, and people on the ground would use slingshots and shotguns to knock drones out of the sky for the bounty they carry.

Okay, that probably wouldn't happen. But if it did, e-commerce would be a lot more interesting.