Two years ago the CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, predicted his company would soon start to deliver by drone. ‘I know this looks like science fiction – it’s not,’ he told 60 Minutes. Most of the media thought it was a publicity stunt to attract Christmas shoppers to Amazon – possibly in the hope their purchase would be the first commercial drone delivery in the world.
While it looks unlikely that the USA federal laws will relax and allow commercial drones to fly in populated areas, here in New Zealand council by-laws are a little more flexible. At present (in Auckland) commercial drone flights are allowed with a permit, but drones can’t fly over private property, or conservation land and water. In controlled airspace (the airport and flight paths) they must stay under 120 metres. This certainly limits the possibility of commercial drone deliveries in the immediate future – not being able to fly across private property is probably the hardest to overcome.
But can drone deliveries be cost effective? The average drone can fly twenty kilometres and carry a pair of shoes, or maybe a designer dress, but then it needs to head back to base and re-charge. Drones are not going to perform well on the cost front, unless they get a lot cheaper, can fly further, and carry more. There are other issues that need to be overcome if we are going to leap into a future of drone delivery, making all our couriers redundant. If you live in an apartment block – where will it land, or will it enter the front door and fly up the stairwell? What about bird-strike – what will happen if it hits a seagull, or even a sparrow? Or possibly another drone? And what about the weather conditions – we do tend to get a lot of extreme weather in New Zealand.
Drones are the perfect delivery method for small, light and valuable items – required by consumers who are time poor and not concerned about the cost – ideal for that must-have designer dress you want to wear this evening! But if you think you are getting your weekly grocery shop delivered from a cut price supermarket chain, this is probably not going to happen in your lifetime. However – this is possibly where driverless vehicles will come into their own – maybe another story!