There was a lot of chatter about drones this past year: Uber Eats is accelerating its drone ambitions, Zomato acquired a drone company in India, Amazon got a patent for in-flight drone recharging. There was so much activity that my colleague, Jenn Marston predicted that 2019 will be a big year for delivery by drones.
But as The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week, one Australian town is learning first-hand about the headaches that come with fast drone delivery. Wing, a division of Alphabet, has been testing out drone delivery in Canberra, Australia, flying everything from sunscreen to lattes through the air and depositing it safely at people’s homes.
Still in its infancy, drones have the potential to greatly speed up delivery of items like food, while using less energy and lowering costs. This is especially intriguing for low-margin, highly perishable items like food, which can lose freshness during long transit periods (see also: Soggy Food Sucks).
However, all that convenience comes at a noisy price. As The Journal reports, Wing’s drones have 12 rotors and two propellers making a chainsaw-like noise overheard. Multiply that noise by the number of people making orders and you have Canberra residents getting irritated by all that buzzing. The noise is wrecking calm and peaceful mornings, scaring dogs and keeping people from heading outside.
All this din is just one of the hurdles drone deliveries will need to overcome before they can become mainstream. Drones will also have issues with inclement weather and doing actual dropoffs in denser, urban areas where people don’t necessarily have a backyard. Then there is the whole issue of what regulations federal, state and local lawmakers pass that will ultimately determine where and how commercial delivery drones will be allowed to fly.
So far in Canberra there have been no accidents involving drone delivery. For its part, Wing says that it is changing up flight routes so drones don’t follow the same path each time, making the drones themselves quieter, and slowing them down to help appease residents.
2019 is going to be a key year for drone delivery, but it may wind up being the year we get through all the growing pains associated with the new technology. But like most innovations, get through it we shall, especially if there is the promise of Dro-nuts on the other side.