Over the last several years a lot of people have gotten excited about the potential of drones. Amazon has pushed the idea as a delivery method. There is also a community of hobbyists who enjoy taking aerial footage. The whole thing is probably going to be this decade’s version of the jet pack: a fun idea that does not really have anything to offer in broad application. Drones will probably always have legitimate purposes, such as building inspections. But are we going to see them fill the sky one day? Doubtful.
First of all, people cannot seem to abide by the rules. Currently there are not all that many drones out there. Yet every time you go looking for news of drones violating restricted airspace it is easy to find examples. Due to this phenomenon drones have been banned in the City of Chicago except under very specific circumstances.
Second of all they are extremely noisy. Hearing one for the first time makes you think there is an aggressive nest of hornets in a tree nearby. It is only after looking around in puzzlement for a minute or two that you realize someone is flying a drone overhead. If they were widely adopted for package delivery and other tasks it is hard to imagine there would not be terrible noise pollution.
Drones also have the potential for injuring people on the ground. If a drone malfunctions and falls from 400 feet it does not seem like a stretch to think that crash could kill someone on the ground. At the very least it could damage property or cause minor bodily injury. To make an army of drones function as effective delivery vehicles you would almost need to clear space on the ground to create drone highways. This way if they crashed there would not be a threat. No city is going to allow property to be cleared for drone traffic lanes when there is existing infrastructure for trucks. It is a political hot potato nobody has an incentive to pick up.
How are drones going to deliver to high rise buildings? Buildings are not going to allow drones to dump off packages in the drive way and be on their way. They already have a lot of work tracking online shipments once they arrive in the lobby. They are not going to go along with the idea of having to also go out front and bring them inside to the package room. How would they even know when the package was arriving?
People in single family residences have had problems with packages being stolen after delivery. So called “porch pirates” have given rise to all kinds of security strategies, everything from lockers provided by Amazon to front porch lock boxes. How is a drone going to operate a front porch lock box?
Where is the profit incentive for corporations to start using drones? Every drone needs a pilot. It is doubtful cities would consent to drones on autopilot. If the debacles witnessed lately with self-driving cars are any indication it will be a long time before we can trust technology to weave through the city fabric without oversight. Why would you employ one hundred pilots to delivery one hundred packages when you could put them all on one box truck and have one driver run his route?
At times it seems the Amazons of the world have used drones more as a publicity tool than a genuine business productivity concept. If that is the case they are pretty smart. If they really believe drones will one day fill the sky it would seem they are living in a dream world.
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