It looks like your favourite pizza delivery guy will soon be out of a job. Everything from books to burgers, from posters to paracetamol will soon arrive at your door courtesy of your friendly door-to-door drone! Amazon and Google are all set and ready to go with drone deliveries, just as soon as they can get the regulators to get out of the way.
Actually, the first legal drone delivery in the US happened last summer. It was a trial operated from the Lonesome Pine airport in Virginia and was designed to illustrate how medication could be delivered to those living in rural areas, which were not currently served well by existing operations. It’s a far cry from the skies buzzing with swarms of drones, landing on all available roof-space with fast food deliveries, but it proves the technology is there and that value is added.
Of course, the authorities are right to be concerned. It isn’t just pizza deliveries that could be dropping from the unregulated sky. Not only that, but what about birds or balloons or bats or any number of unpredictable flying things that your delivery drone might encounter at lower altitudes. Clearly, highly developed ‘sense and avoid’ technology would need to be on-board. With self-drive cars, there is at least some sort of predetermined route- it’s called a road and it runs on just one level, called land. For drones the sky could just be a three-dimensional pile-up just waiting to happen.
Currently, drones must each have a ‘pilot’ and must always be within that pilot’s line of site at all times. So, some kind of mass drone delivery fleet still seems some time away, though with the speed that technology advances, nowadays, ‘time’ often goes past a lot quicker than anyone anticipated. Regardless, there are also other issues around the feasibility of just delivering one package at a time, per trip.
In the mean-time, drone delivery is proving its value in more specialist areas. Again, in the medical field. In the aftermath of the earthquake on Haiti, drones delivered vital medical supplies to areas cut-off from conventional delivery. More recently, in Lesotho, urgent blood samples were sent for testing. With an AIDS epidemic and few paved roads, Lesotho’s lack of air traffic made it the perfect trial-run. With blood samples being an ideal, light-weight cargo, the whole system was mechanised, with no human pilots involved and the drones automatically recharging themselves when needed.