First FAA-Approved Drone Delivery Is a Success, but Does It Matter?
I’ve been tracking the potential for drone (Autonomous vehicle) delivery of packages since before Amazon proposed it. I’m generally very skeptical that it can play a major role in delivering routine packages. And I certainly thought Amazon’s claimed timetable was blowing smoke. (As it turned out to be.)
Basic issues include safety, landing somewhere in urban areas, weather (except where I live) and payload/range/weight. Longer range or bigger payload require a larger vehicle, which is more of a potential safety hazard. Micro navigation (phone poles) might also be a problem, as stated in this IEEE article, but I can envision technical solutions to that issue.
Here is a 2013 IEEE article that makes the basic anti-Amazon case. Amazon was talking about being ready in 2015!
Yet over a longer period, say before 2020, there are niche applications that will be feasible. Whether they will be economically sensible remains to be seen. Rather clearly, deliveries will start with small, high-value, urgent packages. Here’s a video about a rural demonstration of delivering meds.
Here is my comment to someone who said drone delivery was impossible because of theft and safety.
Theft is an issue, but there are many potential partial solutions. For example, once stolen the drone would not function. (It could still be stripped for parts, but that has possible solutions as well.) So it becomes an arms race/incentive system, just like stealing packages from your front door.
Safety is an issue in cities, but suppose the drones become as safe as a delivery truck driving through your neighborhood. A six rotor drone is pretty robust. Safety is less of an issue in some regions. And there may even be ways to “crash safe,” including airbags, parachutes, etc.
Regulatory fear is likely to continue to be a big issue in the USA. In my opinion, that is a shame, and will destroy the US lead in the technology (for which there are many good applications – just probably not package delivery). So I’m glad to see Amazon is taking a role in proposing sensible regulation.
General drone technology clearly has a productive future. But my guess is that the US will be pushed aside by other countries that are less hung up about regulating every possible problem. (E.g. Australia?)