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.