Visions - Drone delivery

Upload is a sci-fi comedy set in the future that focuses on the premise that humans can upload their consciousness to a virtual world, essentially allowing people to become immortal. The idea is interesting in itself, but more interesting are its visions of future tech, from autonomous drones to computerised supermarkets. In this mini series I will focus on the feasibility of a range of different future technologies predicted in the show.

Drone Delivery

There are a number of scenes that depict drones whizzing through Manhattan’s skies, as well as pick up points within buildings where people can collect their packages. Presumably drones drop packages off at the top of a building and there is a system in place that sorts and transports packages to the correct floors.

The concept of drone delivery has been around for a while now and much of the technological developments have remained behind the scenes with news trickling out now and again. The coronavirus crisis has acted as a catalyst for drone development and has highlighted the need for the fast and efficient transport of goods, especially medical supplies. Irish drone startup Manna was meant to be trailing its drones for fast food delivery at Dublin university in March, but it has since shifted its efforts and has partnered with local health authorities to deliver medical supplies to isolating residents.

Upload appears to show that companies have successfully navigated the murky area of drone regulations and presumably have achieved approval for commercial use. I think that safety is going to be a major concern, I also think another overlooked issue is with air rights and a companies right to overfly private property. Despite these issues progress is being made. The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) has already approved various US drone companies to begin operating trials of their concept drones. The CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) in the United Kingdom has also made landmark regulatory changes paving the way for - in their own words “beyond sight drone delivery”.

The sophistication as well as the resilience of drones is also worth looking at, advanced artificial intelligence will have to be used in order to navigate saturated skies and bad weather. In order for extended deliveries and increased payload capacities, new battery technologies will also have to be explored. This will take some time but considering some of the worlds largest companies are backing drone delivery such as Amazon and DHL, I believe the uptake of these new technologies will be fast paced. In his recent speech Amazon executive Jeff Wilke said that in theory, “75% - 90% deliveries could be handled by drone”.

The 360 delivery process is also worth taking a look at. Amazon's prime air drone delivery service currently on trial relies on orders being picked in a warehouse which are then attached to a drone, the drone then navigates to a predefined landing location and drops the parcel off to customers. In the future warehouses will have greater levels of automation which would speed the picking process up and drones will be able to navigate autonomously to the drop off point. An issue that needs to be solved is deciding the location to drop parcels off. Cities are incredibly congested and the majority of residents do not have private gardens or access to rooftops. A solution to this could be predefined landing zones that cover a certain area or population size. They would operate in a similar way to how Amazon lockers work and would still allow for secure and fast deliveries.

The volume of online retail is set to increase dramatically and drone delivery represents a feasible last mile solution that will get delivery trucks off the road, allow for faster deliveries and vastly increase the efficiency of current stretched and fragmented logistics networks.


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