E-commerce giant Amazon posted on their website today details of their R&D department’s latest product—Prime Air. “The goal of [Prime Air] is to get packages into customers’ hands in 30 minutes or less using unmanned aerial vehicles.”
No longer the domain of deadly military strikes, unmanned drones able to be automated to fly according to GPS lines have been seen increasingly at civilian air shows. However, Amazon reports that their biggest hurdle (outside perfection of the technology involved) is the regulation of drones by the FAA in America, and European aviation authorities.
In the US, many states are already employing drones for police surveillance, and now following the tragic helicopter crash in Glasgow, some are calling for similar measures in the UK. Currently the biggest push for drones in the civilian sector is coming from farmers, who want to use drones to provide better data to drive the application of fertilizers, pesticides, and other problems that too often need mass solutions as they aren’t spotted till they’ve spread to the entire crop. Automated drones would optimize the process of trouble shooting, and thus cut down greatly on costs—and all while the farmer is otherwise occupied.
However, while the FAA has OKed the use of manned civilian drones, automated drones are still not alright by them.
Amazon’s use of the drones for Prime Air is the first serious step in utilizing drone technology commercially—let alone in the e-commerce sector—however problematic overcoming aviation laws might be. Ignoring the persistent question of ‘what happens if the drone drops my package’ and then imagining a world where a popular delinquent pastime is shooting down courier drones (and stealing my shiny new iPhone10 en route) the pertinent insight is that as the leading e-commerce retailer is to cut down on shipping times as a priority—doing their best not only to optimize their warehousing (which may very soon be almost 100% automated), but now their shipping as well.
In response, Waterstones yesterday announced their competing service O.W.L.S that, instead of drones, will use a fleet of delivery owls–which aren’t regulated by air traffic regulations.