I meant to mention this yesterday, but didn’t get to it.
The first thing I saw about Amazon’s tantalizing “unveiling” of drone delivery of packages — within half an hour, we’re told! — was a piece on Slate pooh-poohing it:
In an infomercial hosted by Charlie Rose on CBS’s 60 Minutes this weekend, Amazon announced that it plans to deliver small packages via drone in the near future. Many media outlets have credulously repeated this claim, just like they did with the beer-delivering drone and the taco-delivering drone.
However, the technical, regulatory, and logistical challenges of autonomous flight in crowded American urban airspace are far more profound than Bezos allowed on TV. As he said, the FAA is now revising its rules regarding autonomous flight. The FAA roadmap is complex. But it bluntly states (on Page 33): “Autonomous operations are not permitted.” There is an exception for line-of-sight operations for small UAVs. But Bezos’ vision of autonomous delivery in a city is not, according to the FAA roadmap, in the cards in the next few years….
Well, to be fair, Bezos did tell Charlie Rose it would be a few years. (But if the writer had Slate had really wanted to mock the media’s gee-whiz, boosterish reaction, he should have commented on the breathless “making of” feature about their Amazon scoop.)
In the spirit of scoffing, I thought about writing a post headlined something like, “Why doesn’t Bezos promise us teleportation while he’s at it?”
But truly, this is pretty much of a gee-whiz idea — little flying robots gently dropping stuff off at our front doors, and NOT taking the stuff back because we’re not there to sign for it? Who couldn’t love that.
Of course, I hope my libertarian friends will now stop insisting that the private sector is the place where innovations that make our lives better originate. I mean, the government’s been using drones for years, with deadly effect. And delivering payloads WAY bigger than five pounds, baby. It just shows how lame the private sector really is that we get excited over something that’s such a “been-there, done-that” to government.
Sorry, Doug. Couldn’t resist.
Seriously, folks, this is exciting. And we communitarians must admit that the one barrier to doing this is government — that is, the FAA. On the other hand, count me among those grateful that the FAA won’t automatically approve thousands of mini-helicopters buzzing around the yards where our kids play.
Someday, we’ll have this. Just as someday, we’ll have self-driving cars — once the liability issues are worked out.
And I like that Bezos is straining at the limits, getting out there, breaking molds, challenging assumptions, yadda-yadda.
It’s stuff like this that makes me hopeful that he’ll come up with mold-breaking ideas that save the newspaper industry, now that he’s in that business. I’d love a chance to help him do it. It would be wonderful (not to mention tremendous fun) to be on the technological frontier as a part of forging the salvation of the Fourth Estate.
Maybe we could even work drones into it…