Amazon Prime Air: drone-based 30 minute delivery

Jeff Bezos took to 60 Minutes to announce Prime Air, a drone-based 30-minute delivery system for densely populated areas that comes with its own video design-fiction illustrating how it might work. The vision is an exciting one, but the designfic elides some important questions like the regulatory framework under which thousands (millions?) of drones might share the sky as businesses compete to do airborne delivery; whether that framework would be sufficient to actually maintain public safety (hello midair drone collision over a busy highway with attendant plummeting shrapnel into the path of speeding cars!); and what the energy and carbon footprint of drones would be, especially with comparison to conventional delivery logistics.

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Container ship breaks in half, sinks, burns

Here's a gallery of photos showing an enormous container ship breaking in two at the middle, and then the stern section sinking. The bow of the ship -- the Mitsui O.S.K. Lines's MOL Comfort -- was towed away, but burst into flames and broke free of its tow, off the coast of Gujarat, India.

On June 17, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines’ MOL Comfort began suffering from severe hogging and broke in two while underway from Singapore to Jeddah with a load of 7,041 TEUs. The crew escaped in life rafts and picked up by another merchant vessel... On June 27, the stern section began taking on water and sank with an estimated 1,700 containers and 1,500 metric tons of fuel oil. These photos sent to gCaptain were taken over a five minute period... On July 2, the MOL Comfort’s bow section broke free from its towing wire while in “adverse” sea conditions. Crews were able to reconnected and continue towing. Four days later, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines reported that on July 6, a fire broke towards the rear of the bow section of the MOL Comfort, and fire fighting efforts commenced.

The whole set is pretty amazing -- container ships are one of my prime fascinations, and to see these huge packetized lumps of consumer good being tossed around like children's blocks is terrifying.

A Look Back: MOL Comfort Incident Photos [25 PHOTOS] (Thanks, Fipi Lele!) Read the rest

HOWTO move an immensely delicate 50'-wide circular electromagnet

Fermilab just got a new Awesome Magnet, a 50'-wide jobbie that can't be tilted by more than a few degrees without suffering irreparable harm. It's in New York, though, and Fermilab is outside of Chicago, and this presents a logistical problem with a complicated solution:

The Muon g-2 ring, an electromagnet made of steel and aluminum, begins its 3,200-mile trek from New York in early June. From there, it will sail by barge down the East Coast, around Florida's tip into the Gulf of Mexico, then up the Mississippi River until it arrives in Illinois.

Once on land, the electromagnet will be driven at night in a specially designed truck at no more than 10 mph until it reaches Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

The high-tech transport is all in service of a plan to use Fermilab's powerful beam to send muons, a rare kind of particle that lasts just 2.2 millionths of a second, into the circular electromagnet, according to experiment spokesman Lee Roberts, who works at Fermilab. Once in the ring, muons "wobble," or tilt like a top.

Huge magnet set for delicate voyage to Fermilab [Alexa Aguilar/Chicago Tribune]

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Boxes sealed with ATHEIST tape lost by USPS 10X more often than controls

Atheist Shoes ("a cadre of shoemakers and artists in Berlin who hand-make ridiculously comfortable, Bauhaus-inspired shoes for people who don't believe in god(s)") noticed that a disproportionate number of their shipments to the USA were delayed or lost. A customer suggested this may be because USPS workers were taking offense at the ATHEIST packing tape they used to seal the boxes. So the company tried an A/B split, and found that boxes emblazoned with ATHEIST tape were 10 times more likely to go missing in the USPS and took an average of three days longer than their generic equivalents. They've stopped using the ATHEIST packing tape.

ATHEIST / USPS Discrimination Against Atheism? (Thanks, Alice!) Read the rest

The heaviest item to qualify for free Amazon Prime shipping weighs 1,672 lbs

MarketWatch wanted to know how many 1,000+lb items in Amazon's database qualified for free Prime shipping. A lot, it turns out, including a 1,672 lb gun-safe (via Consumerist) Read the rest

The secret history of shipping pallets

Tom Vanderbilt's "The Single Most Important Object in the Global Economy," in Slate is an absolutely fascinating look at the role that pallets play in the modern world, starting with their origin in the long US supply lines for the Pacific theater in WWII (and the "four way pallet" innovation by Norman Cahners of the Navy Supply Corps) to the modern fights over standardization, innovation, and product design. Ikea optimized one of its products, a mug, three times, for pallet packing, ending up with a product that cost 60% less to ship -- and shortly after abandoned pallets altogether in favor of the "Optiledge."

It's a story about the knapsack problem, a P=NP kind of secret history, and it's right up my alley

As USDA Forest Service researchers Gilbert P. Dempsey and David G. Martens noted in a conference paper, two factors led to the real rise of the pallet. The first was the 1937 invention of gas-powered forklift trucks, which “allowed goods to be moved, stacked, and stored with extraordinary speed and versatility.”

The second factor in the rise of the pallet was World War II. Logistics—the “Big ‘L’,” as one history puts it—is the secret story behind any successful military campaign, and pallets played a large role in the extraordinary supply efforts in the world’s first truly global war. As one historian, quoted by Rick Le Blanc in Pallet Enterprise, notes, “the use of the forklift trucks and pallets was the most significant and revolutionary storage development of the war.” Tens of millions of pallets were employed—particularly in the Pacific campaigns, with their elongated supply lines.

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Amazon recruits 5000 UK cornershops to act as delivery depots

Amazon UK has recruited 5,000 cornershops to act as pickup depots for people who order goods online. The Amazon shipments will be delivered to convenient shops with late opening hours for customer pickup, and will also accept returned merchandise. This last will make Amazon much more convenient for people who are clothes-shopping and get the wrong size, fit or colour. The local stores are participating in the scheme in the hopes that customers will buy incidentals while they're in to pick up their shipments. More from the Telegraph's Katherine Rushton:

Consumers will be able to collect their orders from local shops that are often open until late into the night, instead of having to wait in for orders or coming home to find a delivery note telling them to collect their parcel from the nearest Royal Mail depot...

The scheme is likely to prove particularly popular with employees of the many UK companies which ban staff from having personal goods delivered to their work address.

Amazon to deliver parcels to UK cornershops (via Engadget) Read the rest

Ikea tries cardboard pallets

Ikea has announced a new cardboard shipping pallet, which uses fiendishly clever folding to give a loading capacity of 1,650 lbs: "As Ikea uses some 10 million pallets a year, if the experiment is a success it's a good bet that other retail giants will take notice. But the thing that has analysts skeptical is that the pallets can only be used once." Read the rest

How online crooks use "work from home" patsies to launder goods and forward them offshore

Brian Krebs continues his excellent investigative series on the inner workings of online ripoffs, today with a deep look at underground freight-forwarders, so-called "Drops for stuff." These services use patsies recruited on Craigslist through a "work at home" scam to receive goods bought with stolen credit card numbers and forward them on to crooks.

A typical drop will receive and reship between two and four packages per day. The packages arrive with prepaid shipping labels that are paid for with stolen credit card numbers, or with hijacked online accounts at FedEx and the US Postal Service. Drops are responsible for inspecting and verifying the contents of shipments, attaching the correct shipping label to each package, and sending them off via the appropriate shipping company.

One drops operation,, allows “clients” to “rent” drops who have signed up for reshipping jobs. “Managers,” those who facilitate drop recruitment scams, can earn money by purchasing merchandise that the reshipping operation can quickly resell. Most reshipping operations seek consumer electronics that can be easily sold for cash, including laptop computers, cameras, smart phones and parts for sports cars. pays managers and clients 30 percent of the value of laptops from ACER, HP, Toshiba, Dell, Compaq and Samsung, for example, and more than 40 percent of the retail price for Apple, Sony, VAIO, Canon and Nikon products.

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