Aerial Delivery

Aerial delivery

Recently, Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos announced that the company was developing drone technology to deliver packages to its customers. Shortly after the announcement, UPS followed up Amazon’s news release with its own, stating that it was also pursuing drone technology for possible delivery alternatives. Given the continued advancement in unmanned technology, could a delivery force consisting entirely of drones be around the corner?

The Federal Aviation Administration has been ordered by Congress to develop a plan for permitting the use of unmanned aircraft. In the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, standards for operation and certification must be developed “not later than December 31, 2015.” The FAA has until then to “develop and implement operational and certification requirements for the operation of public unmanned aircraft systems in the national airspace system.”

Safety studies are also required to determine if unmanned aircraft usage represents a safety hazard in the national airspace system. The FAA is certainly under pressure to create the rules and regulations by which commercial operators of unmanned aircraft may use these devices, but will approval of a drone permit process guarantee usage of the technology in package delivery?

Amazon’s current drone design permits a single package up to 5lbs to be delivered up to 10 miles from the point of origin. The limitations of the design aren’t likely to remain in place for long as the technology continues to grow in capabilities, but the current iteration of the aircraft may not be cost effective for delivery efficiency. An alternative design could allow for increased distribution range and cost effectiveness, however, making the possibility of unmanned package delivery a reality.

A combination of unmanned ground based vehicles coupled with aerial drones could provide the distance and volume Amazon is looking for to increase its delivery control. The ground-based vehicle would act as a mobile platform from which the drone could lift off, deliver its cargo, and return to swap its batteries and load the next shipment. Google has already developed self-driving vehicles and demonstrated their effectiveness in a variety of driving conditions. The combination of self-driving vehicles with aerial drones isn’t out of the realm of possibility as companies continue to harness advanced technology to increase cost efficiency.

As time continues to unfold into the future, the usage of drones is likely to be unavoidable. Whether or not their usage will be integrated into the package delivery industry remains to be seen.

Do you think the Postal Service should consider the possibility of introducing drones into its delivery network?

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1 Comment

  1. Grannybunny

     /  January 10, 2014

    It’s difficult to see how drones could be used on a large-scale, especially in urban areas, for deliveries, but it will be extremely interesting to see what develops.

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