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Coming To A Town Near You: UAS Delivery Wars

By Patrick C. Miller | September 04, 2014

When businesses the size of Amazon and Google are testing UAS to deliver retail products to homes, you know that there’s some serious clout behind the effort to commercialize the technology for this purpose.

We’ve seen the videos of Amazon and Google delivering small packages in nearly ideal conditions. However, proving a concept on a small scale isn’t as difficult as imagining what might happen when it’s done on a large scale in real-world conditions.

For example, delivering packages to homes doesn’t seem like much of a problem until everyone starts doing it. If Amazon and Google can make home deliveries via UAV, why can’t local auto parts, hardware and grocery stores?

We’ve already seen UAVs used for delivering pizza and beer. What if McDonald’s, Burger King and a host of other fast food outlets decide that they want to get into UAS deliveries, too?

In northern climates, it’s difficult to envision any sort of hot food delivery by drone in January when it’s 12 below zero and the wind is howling. On the other hand, it’d be a great time to order a truly ice-cold beer.

It’s not difficult to imagine a sudden proliferation of drones swarming the sky, buzzing about with payloads ranging from life-saving medicine to ketchup. Assuming there will eventually be reliable sense-and-avoid technology, who’s going to keep track of all this traffic?

No matter how safe manufacturers strive to make their UAVs, the more of them that are in the air, the more likely it becomes that mistakes will be made and accidents will occur.

Thinking about UAS in those terms, the job of integrating them into the national airspace and developing an air traffic control system that enables UAVs to operate safely in populated areas is a daunting task. To move ahead, we need a compromise between “just do it” and “do it 100 percent safely.”