Sunday, February 16, 2014

Personalized Drone Delivery: the new Personal Computer?

Miniaturization, robotics, and the hastening automation economy are coming together in interesting new ways. Personal drone delivery services could be a fast-arriving concept. Amazon announced PrimeAir in November 2013, to possibly be ready for launch in 2015 pending US FAA regulations of personal drone airspace. In the ideal case, the service would deliver ordered items within 30-60 minutes. Similarly, Dubai and the UAE announced a personalized drone delivery service including eye-scanning verification for government documents. Personalized or at least targeted micro-delivery via drones is not a new idea. One obvious use is delivering aid, medicine, and other supplies to remote, war-torn, economically-strapped, crisis-based, or other remote or sensitive geographic areas (Singularity University example: Matternet). As is the case with many newtech ideas, a modern version of personal remote delivery was conceptualized in Vernor Vinge’s Rainbow’s End (2006).

The potential cost savings, convenience, and efficiency gains make a strong argument in favor of personalized drone delivery. Immediately many human-based delivery and courier services could be put out of business. Supply chains could be reinvented to support services that still need both a human and drone aspect (such as court filings and within office building deliveries), although amphibious drones could be just around the corner: robotic-on-land and flying-in-air for urban office and apartment building deliveries. Hiro Protagonist is out of a job not due to landing in a swimming pool but due to personalized drone pizza delivery services!

Longer-term implications could include a redesign of how space is used. Personal drone delivery services could become like the pneumatic tubes or dumbwaiters of the past, including the secure vestibule area already envisioned for delivery at home and office entry areas. Downtown traffic and congestion could be significantly reduced. An obvious challenge is quality of life degradation due to noise and the visual detritus of drones. Are human civilizations relegated to becoming the hive substrate for the incessant and pervasive buzzing of personal drones circling as they conduct their business? Hopefully the 'Prius drone' (e.g.; quiet) and pleasing visual design will be part of the modernization. Personal drone delivery could be an important intermediary step on the way to the 3D home printing of all desired objects.

Figure 1: Let them Eat Drones (photography drone at Versailles). Image Credit

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