Amazon and Google might be chest-thumping about their respective drone delivery programs but the technology is still years out from being feasible in dense urban environments. Dr Mirko Kovac, director of Imperial College London‘s current aerial robotics lab, suggests it could be as far out as a decade.
“Drone delivery in cities is still something that it’s not sure how feasible it is in a big city like London for example,” he said in an interview with TechCrunch, noting that safety remains the key challenge for Amazon et al operating drones in urban areas.
“Flying close to humans, flying close to buildings, flying close to other flying vehicles, and legislation, insurance, air traffic control, all this needs to be sorted before something like this can be demonstrated,” he added. “So central London might not be the best first step… It’s difficult to put a number on it but maybe in a decade we will have commercial drone delivery in cities. That’s maybe reasonable.”
Kovac added that drone delivery will likely arrive sooner in other types of environments – principally where there’s more room for manoeuvre and fewer obstacles for drones to worry about. “Drone delivery in other areas such as in developing countries, such as Africa or Asia for example, there I think it’s much closer because there there is vast spaces and it could be much more feasible to test and implement something there.”
Nearer-term commercial applications for drones will focus on rather more mundane tasks — at least from a consumer’s eye view — such as inspection and repair of structures, he added.
“That is much more close,” said Kovac. “Already you can do 3D mapping of the environment [with drones], with something that is already on the market now — but the next step is the interaction with an environment. So anything that interacts with an environment, like sampling and flight in more constrained environments, like indoors, inside of mines, for examples, making 3D map of the mine structure, or making 3D map of buildings in different ways for the construction industry. These areas are much more close.”
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com