As Amazon unveils its revolutionary new parcel delivery system, it may have just launched a race for an $82 billion jackpot…
Despite all the potential nightmares of injuries to pets and people, technical malfunctions during bad weather and job losses, you have to admit — it’s pretty darn cool. [itropopup]
Introducing Amazon Prime Air, an autonomous, all-electric, GPS-configured flying drone that was designed to give a whole new meaning to air mail.
The idea that computerized flying robots could efficiently and accurately deliver parcels from a distribution center to individual households in as little as 30 minutes from the moment payment clears, has many people buzzing with excitement…and investors scrambling for more intel on its feasibility.
Is this more of a marketing stunt than reality? Without a doubt. But the technology exists and works.
Drones (more formally known as unmanned aircraft systems – UAS) have been frequently used in military air strikes where pinpoint accuracy is required to hit intended targets.
Now the question is whether or not the same efficiency can be applied for more utilitarian needs such as parcel deliveries.
Amazon isn’t the only company to experiment with the concept of drone-based couriers.
Last year, tech company Matternet tested their own delivery drones and found that it cost a fifth of what a standard truck delivery would charge for the same parcel.
Paris-based company Parrot has been undertaking test runs for an airborne newspaper delivery service to homes in France.
And even if it was purely a marketing stunt, many of us recall the impressive commercial produced for Domino’s Pizza this past June with the infamous “DomiCopter” fulfilling an order for a hungry customer.
As far-fetched as that seems, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos believes a future with drone delivery becoming the norm isn’t that far away
If he had his way, Prime Air would be rolled out by next week. However, he believes the earliest window to see an adoption of these drones for commercial use will be sometime in 2015…and more realistically — in 4 to 5 years.
That’s not because of any technological or cost factors.
Rather, the biggest hurdle is in regulation.
The FAA has been monitoring drone development for the last little while, and although safety is a major concern, they are equally worried about airspace management — especially when there could potentially be thousands of drones flying around in near-earth orbit.
For now, only a small contingent of select government agencies, universities, and private companies hold FAA permits to legally fly private drones, and the rules on usage is strict.
Then there are legal and ethical questions to address.
As Stephen Ganyard of ABC News explained, “Not only do we have tactical questions but we have civil liberty questions about privacy, especially if the drones are outfitted with cameras. Plus, there are liability issues in the event of an accident and potential disputes about access to, through, and over private property.”
Especially after this year’s NSA bombshell on spying activities, there’s no doubt going to be a laundry list of legalities to sort through.
But whenever we see demand and interest grow for something that’s legitimate and potentially game changing, we could see serious progress made to try and bring it to fruition.
Such is the case with these drones.
Back in February, the FAA put out a request for proposal (RFP) in search of a site that would allow them to develop certification standards for UAS. According to an FAA spokesperson, a decision could be made by the end of this year with 24 states having submitted their bids.
And although some people may be concerned that such technology could threaten jobs, especially during a still-fragile economic recovery, the industry disagrees.
The Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International firmly believes this industry has the potential to create 70,000 jobs and generate $13.6 billion for the economy between 2015 – 2017, assuming FAA approval is reached before then.
As it stands, the day we’ll be seeing a sky full of drones isn’t if, but when.
So expect 2014 to be a year where more robotics companies start to come out of the woodwork to try and get their piece of the drone pie.
The race is officially on.