The drone geek world is all atwitter following the recent announcement that retailer Amazon.com obtained FAA approval to test delivery drones. And yes, this will change everything we know about online shopping and package logistics.
But we’re only now in the baby-steps phase that will lead to that shining moment when an Amazon Prime Air drone buzzes to your doorstep with the deluxe Game of Thrones DVD box set. Europe will likely see the first delivery drones and it could take up to two years before American shoppers get to play. Until then, we can only speculate how drone delivery will work in a practical sense.
First, Amazon will need to figure out exactly how the drone and its precious cargo will reach the consumer. Could we see a drone mail box at a local business? Such a solution would likely work on the same principle as Amazon Locker – a system by which customers direct their orders to a well-known business like 7-11 for pickup.
As it stands now, Amazon or any drone-delivery company may face too many immediate hurdles to make “right-to-your-door” delivery feasible in the immediate future. Issues to address will include ownership of drone mailboxes (third-party or Amazon), avoiding burglaries, public safety concerns and the inevitable UAV version of Elmer Fudd (“I’m shooting dwones, heh-heh-heh”).
Amazon will have to develop a set of best practices such as those suggested by Skycatch in order to make Prime Air work. In a 2013 blog post, Skycatch provided a laundry list of criteria: “It has to withstand high winds, rain and snow; it has to be shielded in case it falls or runs into people; it should land in authorized drop off and pick up stations in secure areas (on top of apartment buildings, corporate offices, or houses) to ensure the UAV and its payload cannot be stolen by someone unauthorized.”
In 2013, logistics expert Ralph Rio laid out a possible scenario for how drone delivery might work in a “truck-to-drone” partnership to Forbes columnist Steve Banker:
“Consider a truck with sides that roll-up to reveal shelves with drones. The truck stops at a home and, while the delivery person gets and delivers a package, multiple drones emerge and deliver packages within a few hundred feet, and return. If a drone has a problem, the delivery person is there to help.”
Another potential solution to support delivery drones in the field would be deployment of a smart charging pad like Skysense. The pad can be remotely operated and offers fast charging within wide landing areas – like a protective hangar to store and recharge the drone between flights wirelessly.
Despite all the what-ifs and obstacles drone deliveries face, if Amazon builds it, it will come. Perhaps it’s all much ado about nothing. Currently, nothing is really stopping a thief or shooter from high-jacking or disabling a UPS truck except the fear of jail time (you’re headed to Oz, drone boy!”).
With the exception of a few early-adopting miscreants, there’s little reason to think normal people will treat delivery drones differently from the man in the brown shorts, especially if Amazon adds tracking features such as multiple, onboard cameras to detect and track violators. And, at the end of the day, it’s probable that some game-breaking tech breakthrough will emerge in the drone world that may dry up the many challenges drone couriers would face.
Jason is a longstanding contributor to DroneLife with an avid interest in all things tech. He focuses on anti-drone technologies and the public safety sector; police, fire, and search and rescue.
Beginning his career as a journalist in 1996, Jason has since written and edited thousands of engaging news articles, blog posts, press releases and online content.
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