Lately we’ve been hearing reports of flying pizza, soaring beer and floating Dan Brown paperbacks. So, keep your eyes on the skies and you, too, might spot some winged oddities.
Don’t worry. This isn’t a culinary remake of Superman. No, this is much better. This is the advent of delivery by drone.
No longer merely the playthings in technology showcases, drones are the new rage in the delivery industry.
Amazon, the world’s largest retailer, was first in on the action. Over the past few years they’ve been quietly developing an eight-rotor Octocopter.
These Octocopters, claim the retail giant, are capable of delivering packages up to 2.3kg within 30 minutes of customers placing an order. Since orders under 2.3kg constitute over 80% of the company’s deliveries, we’re talking big business.
Amazon’s new service, dubbed Prime Air, is seen as the way forward for a company looking to improve efficiency and reinvigorate growth. While the program is still in its infancy, the retailer claims they are already testing their 5th and 6th generation aerial vehicles. Generations 7 and 8 are already in the pipeline.
In his annual letter to shareholders Amazon founder and CEO, Jeff, Bezos, claimed Amazon’s drone-based delivery framework could be in place and operating in only five years.
However, with European and American airspace off-limits to civilian drones until 2016 and 2015 respectively, we’ve got another few years of empty skies ahead of us.
This red tape hasn’t stopped some companies though. Lakemaid Beer used drones to deliver cases of beer to remote ice-fishing shacks for months until a promotional video went viral and attracted the ire of the Federal Aviation Administration.
Similarly, Indian pizzeria Francesco is now answering questions from Mumbai’s police force following a promotional video featuring drone-delivery. The ad shows a basic four-rotor Quadcopter delivering a pizza from the pizzeria to a high rise in Worli in Central Mumbai. The police claim the drone posed a security risk and are asking why the eatery had not sought police permission before the flight.
More law-abiding companies are simply announcing their intention to pick up the technology if and when it’s made legal. For example, Zookal, a textbook rental company based in Australia, announced it would employ drones to make deliveries from 2015, but only if it was approved by Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority.
Ignoring currently legality for one moment, the potential benefits of drone-based deliveries are plentiful. Fewer trucks on the road means less pollution, less congestion and faster and cheaper deliveries. Spending days imprisoned within our houses waiting for shoddy delivery companies would be a thing of the past.
However, the new technology isn’t without its detractors. One online commentator urged others to consider, “how damaging thousands of drones would be to the wildlife.” Another imagined a conversation with Amazon in which he had to request a ladder to retrieve the package the drone had left on the roof.
Commercial drone technology is unproven and untested. The technology is there in principle but whether it can operate safely when scaled is still an open question. Likewise, whether the globe’s countless regulatory bodies will allow drones for commercial use is still uncertain. Then there’s questions of security and cost effectiveness.
Like any fledgling tech the future is interesting and precarious in equal measure. One thing’s for certain though, we’ll be watching with bated breath and beady eyes.