While the Wild West didn’t have anything like Amazon’s upcoming drone delivery program, the crisscrossing network of trains served as a primary means of transportation for both passengers and valuable cargo throughout the 1880s. However, strings of boxcars packed with goods and supplies traversing the Southwest also drew a certain criminal element that didn’t have any qualms about taking everything those trains had for themselves.
Fast forward a century and change, and Amazon could be seeing itself dealing with an eerily similar problem.
CBS News Miami reported that an Amazon delivery van was robbed by an armed assailant while distributing packages Wednesday (Dec. 16) morning. In a scene straight from a spaghetti Western, Arturo Ramos, the driver, explained how a man in a Jeep stopped in the middle of the road, dressed in the same style of reflective vest Amazon requires its workers to wear, but when Ramos stopped the van after exiting his home-base warehouse, he was approached by a second assailant from behind who brandished a shotgun at him.
“He had a handkerchief over his face,” Ramos told CBS Miami. “He said, ‘Get out of the van.’ When I didn’t get out, he racks the shotgun, and I realized I was being robbed.”
The two thieves left Ramos on the side of the road as they drove off with the van — and the hundreds of packages he was scheduled to deliver during his shift.
This isn’t the first time that Amazon has had to confront a particularly troublesome wrinkle to the concept of a widespread, near-autonomous delivery network — the lack and implausibility of direct oversight makes every node susceptible to fraud and worse. Many shoppers have had a package or two swiped off of their porches by unscrupulous passersby, but as Amazon continues to expand not just the reach of its deliveries but the manner, the question of how to get customers’ packages to them on time could become an issue of logistics and security in equal parts.
Does this mean that a crime wave is primed to sweep the nation, with Amazon’s soft delivery underbelly as its target? Unlikely, but as online retailers continue to become the choice du jour of more and more shoppers, the average value of products loaded into vans for last-mile deliveries increases in kind. Why rob a jewelry store when it’s being boxed and put on wheels?
As far as Amazon should be concerned, this question of providing security for a nationwide delivery isn’t limited to the ground. If thieves start to see vans with human drivers as viable targets, Amazon’s upcoming unmanned drone delivery program would seem like a prime example of remote, isolated carriers of valuable goods. Forbes explained that there are already laws on the books that would appear to make intentionally shooting down or tampering with commercial drones a federal crime, but that hasn’t stopped consumer unease about the program from inducing one Colorado town to actually consider a vote on legalizing shooting down drones that enter residential airspace.
As MarketWatch explained, many retailers and carriers simply bake the cost of stolen items into their normal operations now, so fretting over a rise in crime focused on Amazon’s deliveries is more an issue of scale than anything else. Is Amazon exploring what it’d take to deploy its own security force? Of course not, but at what point does the ever-expanding delivery network traversing land and air lead to an unsustainable level of theft? And what will Amazon do to stop bleeding those costs to opportunistic burglars?
The Wild West’s stagecoach robbery problem was only solved when peaceful settlers and their peace-keeping elements followed the cowboys to the Pacific, but with Amazon dealing with a new kind of frontier landscape, its solutions are less immediately clear.