The unmanned postman

A storm of interest swept the global media recently after the news that Swiss Post had begun commercial drone trials to see if it made financial sense to replace the delivery van with the airborne supply drop.

The reaction wasn’t surprising given that a number of other international firms have begun looking into the idea in the last couple of years: FedEx, Amazon, DHL and UPS to name but four.

We’re deliberately not getting involved in the legislative aspect of the industry here – this is a blog after all and can do without any arid legalese – so the question posed is what of the risks to the package?

In the case of the smaller delivery services being looked at, see Amazon and Swiss Post, what’s to stop a modern day UAV entomologist waving a great cyber or literal net in the hope of snagging a hitherto unknown species of drone, bearing the bounty of a mystery package as reward?

It’s worth keeping in mind thaboeing-x-45a-541212_1280t aside from whether or not it is technically possible (it is), the customer also needs to be fairly sure what they ordered will actually arrive.

And unless we’re talking about drones the size of the X-47B or X-45A, dispensing dozens of consoles, flat screen TVs and other bits from a cavernous payload bay, it’s unlikely that the unmanned post-drone will be able to carry much more than one parcel at a time, depending on the item.

Will the mail vans turn into great drone hubs, spewing forth clouds of buzzing autonomous delivery machines? Think of the volume. Take for example the number of items delivered by the US Postal Service each day – 512.8 million pieces of mail processed and delivered – and you begin to get an idea of just how numerous delivery drones could be.

One suspects that the best use for commercial unmanned delivery is to be found in accessing remote areas (see Google Wing) perhaps without road access, delivering hard-to-get items for the community, or in the distribution medical supplies, as was demonstrated last week in Virginia.

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