Hey there! Have you heard Amazon is developing their “Prime Air Service” to deliver small packages by drone? Amazon’s future vision of drone package delivery is: “one day, seeing Amazon prime drones buzzing around delivering packages will be as routine as seeing mail trucks on the road.”
Amazon released this video teaser, showing how the delivery system will work. The charming host is none other than Jeremy Clarkson, the Ex-Top Gear Host.
Though Amazon is running delivery testing in the US, UK, and Israel, they are a long way off from actually making this a working system. Here are five critical problems that need to be overcome before this service can become a reality:
Problem #1: Safety Concerns
What if the delivery drone’s power system malfunctions and drops out of the sky? Though Amazon says they are experimenting with different styles of delivery drones, the hybrid drone in the video weighs up to 55 pounds. That’s a hefty chunk of hardware to come crashing down on property or people. The delivery system will need to undergo rigorous testing to make sure it’s as reliable or better than the delivery systems we have today. Perhaps a drone emergency parachute might be a good idea.
Emergency Response Aircraft:
How will delivery drones avoid emergency response aircraft, like life flight helicopters? As an emergency response pilot flies to pick up someone to
save their life, nearby delivery drones crossing the flight path would have to give the emergency aircraft priority to avoid collisions (especially densely populated areas)!
Would the delivery drones simply return back to the Amazon warehouse base, or would they have enough battery flight time to take a safe detour path around the accident scene?
And hey, if I don’t’ receive my package because of an air traffic jam, do I get a 30 minute delivery time guarantee from Amazon?
Problem #2: Air Traffic
Speaking of air traffic, today’s systems will need a complete overhaul to allow instant communication among delivery drones and conventional aircraft. To avoid mid-air collisions, Amazon has already proposed 2 levels of critical technologies to be developed:
One technology is called “vehicle-to-vehicle” communications (V2V), meaning all aircraft are brought together on command and control networks with an internet connection. This allows any vehicle on the network to communicate with another on the network, to create awareness and maintain separation.
The other technology is “sense-and-avoid” (SAA), which relies on on-board sensors to navigate around real world objects (like birds and balloons shown in the video above).
Altitude Bands – Amazon’s “Solution”
Amazon is proposing a model defining new “altitude bands.” These altitude bands would segregate the civil airspace to below 400 ft, and keep all current aviation operations above 500 ft. A 100 ft permanent “no-fly” buffer zone would buffer the 2 major air spaces.
The civil airspace would be further divided:
A High Speed Transit Zone (200 ft to 400 ft). The high speed transit zone would be reserved for designated “well-equipped” vehicles as determined by the relevant performance standards and rules (to be developed). In other words, Amazon and other UAS delivery services carve out their own designated airspace.
A Low Speed Zone below 200 ft would be reserved for civilian and hobbyist radio controlled flights.
Current US rules allow drone hobbyists to fly up to 400 ft altitude without any special permission. If this proposal becomes actual regulation, it will be interesting to see how peeved the average remote control UAV hobbyist feel about losing this much airspace to delivery services like Amazon or Google under this model.
When Will This Happen?
Presently, drone technology has outpaced current laws, and lawmakers need to catch up. Given the speed of government, nobody knows how long this will take. Until then, Amazon deliver drones will be limited to testing.
Problem #3: Weight limits
Weight limits will be capped at 5 pounds. So ordering a couch by drone delivery won’t happen. This would keep at lest some of ground parcel delivery guys and gals employed.
Problem #4: Service Location
The delivery drones can travel up to 15 miles. So this means you would have to live within 7 miles of an Amazon distribution center to get this service. As drone battery technology improves, this may extend the range. This basically leaves remote or rural customers out of the service area, unless of course Amazon builds more warehouses.
Hmm, maybe in the future, Amazon would work a deal to store their inventory at Walmarts, who are already just about there!
Problem #5: Vandalism
The you tube comments for this video are interesting. Roughly half of them were about people wanting to either shooting down the down the drone, or steal it. One guy from the UK said due to their gun control laws, vandals would “probably just throw rocks”. For some of us, it’s human nature to shoot something new that we don’t understand. Like the Kentucky dad, who was arrested (and later acquitted) of shooting down a drone he thought was spying on his sunbathing teenage daughter?
For a minute though, let’s rise above the primal tendency to destroy, because there’s a good question here. How will these delivery drones be safeguarded to ensure packages actually get delivered?
It makes no business sense for Amazon to fund drone delivery if they’re not returning home.
Eventually delivery drones may become so common that they blend into our daily lives like a common mail or parcel delivery truck. But until then, will the trigger happy members of the public really start downing delivery drones enough to make the service impractical?
And what about hackers? Could they hijack the navigation control signals and land them in their own yard to get the Amazon goodies inside? You bet – in fact, hackers are already doing this, and it’s really not that hard. Who gets stuck paying for that?
I admit, the convenience of drone delivery service is really attractive. Hey, my grandpa is 83 years old, and still drives out of principle – even though he really shouldn’t. Bless his heart.
Believe this: if this kind of technology helps save him a few trips to the store, while retaining his dignity, we all win!
How soon do you think Amazon drone delivery will happen? What other problems did I miss?