FROM THE ARCHIVES
When the possibility was first discussed to have items delivered by drones, I thought, ”Well, here we have an example of a runaway craze, and this is clearly not going to happen!”
The thought seemed simply naïve, like something out of a cartoon. A future in which pizza delivery, parcel delivery, and medical couriers would avail themselves of small, electric helicopters with four propellers to drop off their goods? Nuts!
And why, actually, do we need that type of service anyway? Logistic arrangements and systems as we know them didn’t seem so deficient to warrant such extravagance. The world worked reasonably well as it was, I figured.
What’s more, I began to imagine all sorts of problems with this concept: How many more staff would be required to operate all these flotillas of small, flying vehicles? Would it require special training? A license? How about legislation regulating residential no-fly zones and privacy concerns? How about registration and tracking of drones? How to avoid collisions in the air? How to avoid collisions with power lines? What if a drone crashes? What if a drone runs out of battery charge? What if a drone gets nicked by thieves, or attacked by a dog or eagle? What if people start using it for evil?
And these are probably only the most obvious of questions. There may be a whole universe of more profound considerations nobody sees coming right now.
I was skeptical, to say the least.
But it as it turns out, there are actually plenty of good reasons to introduce drones for a number of purposes, and all of the problems I had imagined are being worked on, and solved, by tech companies such as DroneTerminus, one of companies I researched for this article. Let’s begin with the good reasons to have these things in the air:
- Drones are machines; for that reason, you can send them into situations you wouldn’t subject humans to. That means we will be able to fix stuff we can’t now, and save lives in disaster areas or places we humans can’t reach easily.
- Drones don’t get tired, so you can get them to do work nonstop.
- Drones can go anywhere, any time, so we can live more conveniently, following whims, when we have drones. Pizza at 03:22 am? Out to your sailboat in the bay? Coming.
- Drones aren’t afraid of dogs, so your letters will get delivered even though the scary pit bull may happen to be outside.
- Drones allow us to survey nature in ways we never could before, feeding us with information we may need to help drive conservation efforts better.
- Drones can be used to observe and intercept wildlife poachers in nature reserves.
- Drones can be used in agriculture to manage pesticide use more efficiently, ultimately benefitting food quality and our health.
- Drones can make policing easier – boo-hoo! Yes, surveillance; but what else does a cop in his patrol car do? Keeping an eye out. Only that now, patrols can also go airborne. Police will have flying eyes. I’d feel safer for it.
- Drones can help journalists investigate. It will get harder to hide stuff.
- Drones can help make much better sports footage, because you can fly them into positions you can’t reach as an actual cameraman.
As for the problems, I personally think they boil down to a mere three:
- People will crash drones into things, be it by accident or on purpose.
- Anyone may be able to use the new surveillance capabilities to someone else’s detriment.
- Some delivery jobs may disappear.
That’s as far as I can see.
As to how these could be countered, I think we’ve prevailed against trickier stuff than that in the past. Let’s take them one by one:
The drone being in the wrong place at the wrong time is an issue we can solve. The technology start-up DroneTerminus for example has developed what they call the “eyes on the sky” solution. The DroneTerminus is a smart receiving platform that can live in your yard or on the roof of your apartment. It is empowered with artificial Intelligence that gives it a situational awareness of its surroundings and all potential hazards. It communicates in real-time to the drones and their operators, and if little Johnny is playing in the yard or if the neighbor is inebriated and zooming his drone wickedly around the yard, then the delivery can be waved off—it can come back when things are safer. The device can assess risk and therefore lower instances of crash or collision. This is pretty cool technology.
But how can we avoid squadrons of criminally motivated drones going out, doing dark side stuff? Well… We can’t. Wherever there’s potential for technical advancement, it will be used by both good and evil. But why not respond with fighting drones designed specifically to fight drone-on-drone? Since we can’t make them go away anymore, we might as well equip ourselves to deal with the phenomenon in all its shades. And we can. Flying things that fight other flying things – honestly, we’ve grown up with that. Star Wars 1976, anyone? This is not new as a thought. It’s just new as a reality.
Disappearing delivery jobs: Honestly, if you were a postie, and your boss offered you the option to retrain as a drone pilot, would you say no? Think about it: No more fearing the pit bull terrier when delivering letters, and your risk of getting involved in a traffic accident goes down to zero while you recline with a cappuccino at Post Office Drone Central, flying drone number 342.
I’d love it.