Drone Delivery: From Hindu Kush to Your Living Room

The evolution of drone technology has been fascinating to watch as a prime example of the accelerating returns that technological advances make possible. Just ten years ago, drones were a curious afternote in the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as the first generation models were just hitting the skies.

Fast forward a decade and it seems we are on the verge of having goods purchased online shipped to our door within an hour of purchase. Absolutely amazing to consider. This is now the ninth and tenth generation of drone technology. Like previous technological advancements such as the airplane the first iterations were developed for purposes of war but then quickly evolve to allow for peacetime and domestic purposes.

I’m of course referring to the recent announcement by Amazon of their intention to start a program called Amazon Prime Air which aims to use drones to deliver packages ordered online within 30 minutes of purchase.

Amazon claims the program is still years away, which it surely is. Nonetheless it’s exciting to see advancements and possibilities like this on the near term horizon. Imagine the possibility three years from now that you can visit Amazon.com, make a purchase, and then have that purchase brought to your living room within the time it would take you to watch an episode of your favorite television program.

Amazon realized a promotional video that includes footage of them beta testing their delivery drones. You can see it for yourself below:

In short, this become news recently because Amazon requested permission from the FAA – the Federal Aviation Administration which regulates all air travel in the USA – to begin testing and implementing this technology. The legal situation of all this remains to be sorted out. Currently, drones are banned for all commercial purposes in the US and are theoretically only allowed for research and by hobbyists.

You can read the details of the case here at Regulations.gov. However, history has shown again and again that laws tend to bend to public will and economic demand. At least in cases like this. For example just look at how the laws for things like marijuana, gay marriage, and animal rights have changed to stay in line with public opinion.

With the public demanding instant home delivery of goods – and huge tech companies like Google and Amazon always lobbying to be allowed to market and profit from the technology they’re developing – there’s no doubt that we’ll see the laws open up to allow these possibilities in the coming years.

Other consequences to consider are what affect this will have on traditional brick and mortar retailers like Wal-Mart and Best Buy. Currently one of the biggest advantages they have is speed – if you need an item as soon as possible your only recourse is still to have a local store.

Will Wal-Mart and others lobby to prevent this technology from becoming publicly accepted and available? Or wil they attempt to develop their own versions of it to apply to their own goods? Could we be on the verge of home delivered groceries? Where do FedEx and UPS stand?

As for how immediate this technology will impact Amazon’s business, the current generation of deliver drones can support payloads of five pounds or less and travel up to 50 miles per hour. According to Amazon, 86% of their deliveries would meet that threshold. Clearly once it rolls out this would be an absolute game changer for Amazon’s business and for the delivery industry as a whole. How long before we see drone delivery of large packages?

The possibilities are endless and fascinating. Here’s to the future.

Google Working to Detect Gas Leaks in Major Cities

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In recent years we’ve all gotten accustomed to seeing Google StreetView cars cruising our neighborhoods to help map out the details our environment for their Google Maps app.

Their presence has not been without controversy. Privacy advocates have long sense guffawed at the thought of their presence and arbitrary ability to take and publish photos of our homes to the world. Some porsche carrera monterrey were seen.

Google hasn’t done everything to help this controversy, however. As at times their behavior has been very questionable, such as when it came out in the news that those StreetView cars were saving and decoding the WiFi signals which they intercepted and then decoding the data for unknown purposes.

Anecdotally, a few years ago I once witnessed a group of young boys chasing a StreetView car down a side street throwing soccer balls at its back window. Clearly there is some angst and unease from all sides about having these vehicles in our neighborhoods.

However, a recent news story reminds us that not all us bad about Google roaming our neighborhoods with high tech automobiles.

In recent months, Google in conjuction with the Environmental Defense Fund has used its fleet of StreetView cars to puruse cities while detecting for gas leaks while using methane sensors which were equiped on the cars.

While these type of leaks aren’t an immeadiete threat to anybody’s safety or health, the do represent long-term health, economic, and environmental concerns. After all, no matter where you stand on the climate change issue, everyone can agree that efficiency is better than waste – particularly when we are dealing with natural, combustible resources like natural gas.

The three test cities used so far were Boston, Staten Island and Indianapolis. Together, the censors were able to take almost 15 million readings with the methane sensors. That data has been compiled into handy maps which you can see for yourself here on the EDF’s website.

While the data unearthed so far has not been particularly earth shattering – older cities with older pipes have the most leaks while newer cities with new infrastructure have the least – researchers and companies will be able to use the data coupled with the associated GPS coordinates to make repairs that will increase their gas efficiency. Those changes will save them money while helping the environment. It’s a win win for everybody involved.