On my radar: Mr Delivery: the drone

2014-04-03 10:00

The machines are moving out of the military world to satisfy our need for instant gratification

In December last year, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos made an announcement on news magazine programme 60 Minutes that his company was working on a 30-minute delivery for online shoppers using drones and that the service should be available by 2016.

He said this form of delivery would “completely eliminate the lack of instant gratification currently lacking from shopping online”.

The statement was met with derision – from accusations of it being simply a cheap marketing gimmick, to an idea that was simply ludicrous and ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ far-fetched.

But the concept of drone delivery is actually right on our doorsteps and Bezos’ timeline for 2016 is pretty accurate. If it weren’t for the red tape and security clearances required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the idea would already be in practice.

The technology not only exists, but drone delivery is already being used commercially – albeit in a nonregulated fashion.

Amazon’s drone delivery service would be the first major commercial application of the technology. As one tech writer pointed out: “Amazon is not starting but joining the drone delivery revolution.”

Drones are not new. The modern-day drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle, was already being used by the military in the mid-20th century.

Surveillance and reconnaissance were their primary function, especially by the US during the Vietnam War.

It is only recently that they have come on to the radar (so to speak) of the average citizen, thanks to the ongoing leaks by Edward Snowden.

Drone surveillance, in the name of homeland security, has understandably unnerved many US citizens, which even prompted New York-based artist/designer Adam Harvey to design a Stealth Wear clothing line, which includes an “anti-drone hoodie” – a hooded top that uses metallised material designed to counter thermal imaging used by drones.

However, fun-loving South Africans have taken a different approach to drones and used them to deliver beers at the Oppikoppi music festival last year.

With the help of an app and the GPS location via smart phones, revellers were able to receive their beers via a parachute drop from a drone. The drone was nicknamed “Manna” after the Old Testament story of bread that fell from the sky.

More recently, camera drones were being used to provide an aerial view of the media circus outside the courtroom on the first day of the Oscar Pistorius trial.

Back in America, there is a scramble to use drones commercially. The Domino’s Pizza chain is experimenting with the “Domicopter”, a drone that will deliver a hot pizza to your front door, and some restaurants are delivering plates of food to their patrons as a novel tech gimmick.

For Valentine’s Day this year, an online florist started to deliver boxes of flowers using drones, but was ordered to stop by the FAA.

However, a federal judge ruled that the FAA had no jurisdiction over small drone aircraft. The judge argued that if he accepted the FAA’s argument for regulating drones, “a flight in the air of a paper airplane or a

toy balsa wood glider could subject the operator to FAA penalties”. This ruling could prove to be a watershed moment for commercial drone deliveries, as it begins to carve out a completely new niche for the machines as a regulated form of delivery that dovetails perfectly – and logically – with the rise and rise of online shopping.

Regulation is obviously crucial, which is why the Amazon timeline of 2016 is realistic.

Even if delivery drones were given permission to only fly under a certain height, our skies would become the new Wild West if no order was imposed.

Cynics of course all revert to the same question: What if people simply shot the drones down? This would probably be a real concern in South Africa, given the ingenuity that some of our criminals show.

If criminals blow up ATMs, shooting down a drone would be like taking sweets from a child.

Discussions and legislation about air space, third party risk, loss and insurance, and criminal interception are all issues that need to be brought forward.

My point is that drone delivery is not just a futuristic dream, or a concept with insurmountable problems. Sooner or later (I bet sooner) these operational issues will be resolved.

The technology has been around for half a century and much like the internet, which was first used for internal military purposes, so too will drones shift from military use to become the new mechanical workhorses of our digital era.

Get used to the idea now, because while the debate and derision is all about the commercial application of appeasing people’s desire for instant gratification for online shopping, the next wave will be far more useful and important. Think instead of the benefits of delivering life-saving drugs and medication to rural areas or disaster zones cut off from rescue teams.

Suddenly, the concept of drone delivery doesn’t seem so superficial any more, but rather a 21st-century concept that will have us all wondering why we didn’t start using drones earlier.

Chang is the founder of Flux Trends.

Visit www.fluxtrends.com

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.