Picture the scene: a pleasant summer’s afternoon relaxing in the garden listening to Test Match Special. Having poured yourself a second glass of Pimm’s, a faint whirring, rustling sound suddenly alerts you to the tree overlooking Mrs Jenkins’ garden next door. Up in the tree there appears to be a small quadcopter trapped within the tangle of branches. After you’ve grabbed a ladder to climb up and loosen the device, you see that attached to it is a compact package with your name and address printed on it. Upon untying the package, the device slips from your grasp and flies off into the sky, only just avoiding another flying device that’s making a bee-line for next door’s garden. As you sit back in your deckchair and unwrap the book that you ordered that very morning, you smile wryly to yourself and shake your head, muttering, “Drones…” Meanwhile, there’s a shriek from next door as Mrs Jenkins’ airborne delivery of a brand new trowel collides with her rear end as she bends over to tend to her begonias.
Sounds far-fetched? Well, not at all. This is the sort of scenario we could be rapidly adjusting to if Amazon have anything to do with it. The Seattle-based retail giant has invested over $14 billion in their drone delivery program: Amazon Air Prime.
While many mocked the original announcement in Dec 2013, UAV (drone) delivery is likely to unsettle traditional package delivery considerably. If the Federal Aviation Administration gives Amazon clearance for commercial rollout of its drone delivery service, the price that a consumer would pay for the delivery of a five pound package could be as low as 75p! Just as impressive, delivery times could drop below thirty minutes, exemplifying the supply and demand dream. In comparison, FedEx and UPS cost 8-13 times more for much longer delivery times for a small package.
It’s like a wild sci-fi vision turned into workaday reality. But it poses many logistical questions. How will the service be policed? How will smaller businesses be affected? And will Mrs Jenkins ever order from Amazon Air Prime again after being goosed by her new trowel?
Similarly, could we ever get used to our low-level airspace being invaded by flying robotic postmen? Well, despite misgivings at the time, we adjusted to sat nav, self-service checkouts and Uber taxis, so quite possibly… along with whatever disruptions might lie in store. And speaking of Uber, just wait till you see what they’ve got up their sleeves…more of which next time!