“The drones are coming! The drones are coming!”
Hear this now and you’d probably assume a military invasion was imminent. But in the near future it will only mean the mail is on its way and the package you were expecting from Amazon is about to be delivered.
The online retailing giant plans to launch its own fleet of commercial delivery drones under the Prime Air label sometime within the next decade. According to CEO Jeff Bezos, sightings of Amazon drones cruising America’s friendly skies will soon be “as common as seeing a mail truck.” These drones will be self-controlled, GPS-equipped and able to zoom back and forth from central warehouses carrying packages to the doorsteps of Amazon customers in every city, village and hamlet.
Bezos claims the technology is already available to make this happen, although others dispute that. He foresees a day when sectors of American airspace will be reserved exclusively for commercial drones, which unlike their police and military counterparts will only be carrying packages and not weaponry or surveillance equipment (we can only hope!).
Up to now the FAA has been reluctant to green-light commercial drones, however, citing safety concerns. It has passed rules requiring drone operators to remain within visual distance of the mini-airships at all times while they are in flight, which if left to stand would make Bezos’s scheme impossible to implement.
To circumvent the FAA’s restrictions, a Cincinnati-based company called AmpHoldings has developed a prototype drone delivery system that would use electric vehicles as mobile platforms. Packages would be carried by truck for the majority of the trip, and when the target address was in sight a drone would be let loose with package in tow to make the final delivery.
This hybrid approach would be more cost-efficient than Amazon’s proposed system right now, even if regulators dropped the visual-distance requirement. But the FAA has already given Amazon permission to begin testing their drones, and once research scientists on the Amazon payroll develop units that can fly farther, faster, cheaper and more safely – which they will – Amazon’s domination of the aerial retail marketplace seems all but assured.
If Amazon gets its way (and when has it ever not gotten it’s way?), in the future the skies of American will be saturated with flocks of “smart” drones carrying packages from Amazon warehouses around the clock, 365 days a year, with human intervention only for maintenance. And once other companies adopt the technology, our skies will be so full of drones that birds heading south for the winter will have to walk to avoid the traffic jams.