Everyone hates waiting for deliveries. In all honesty, it would probably be cheaper and quicker for me to walk into town to buy yet another new iPhone charger, but nothing compares to tapping the ‘check out’ button and knowing you’re going to get something other than bank statements in the mail. Online shopping is so easy and so convenient that some people do ALL of their buying via the Internet.

By Laura Cox

Amazon are one online company who have really cashed in. They are the largest internet based seller in the U.S., beginning in 1994 as a bookstore but branching out to provide DVDs, games, electronics, clothing and more. To put their success into figures, Amazon’s turnover for last year was $88.988 billion –  that’s a lot of bluerays.

The end of July saw Amazon propose a specific airspace reserved only for their delivery drones, as part of new venture Amazon Prime Air. The massive retail company proposed that a universal airspace, from 200ft to 400ft, should be reserved exclusively for them. As well as this, Amazon have also advocated a ‘no-fly zone’ for a further 100ft above their chosen airspace. Bold.

Amazon predict that within the next 10 years, swarms of drones crossing the skies armed with goodies will be the norm. The drones themselves are akin to over-sized mechanical spiders, that is, if spiders could be equipped with sophisticated communications technology and GPS tracking. They can travel at speeds of over 70 mph, and are (thankfully) kitted with advanced sensors to avoid any nasty collisions. In order to keep things running to schedule, and to make sure the drones don’t repeatedly crash into each other, the machines would have to be able to communicate. Yep, communicate. I’m aware that this doesn’t mean holding coffee mornings in the sky, but it still makes me a little uneasy.

By the way, we’re not just talking a few black dots whizzing past our houses every now and then. According to Forbes, Amazon sold 306 items per second worldwide in 2012. To use their exact wording, that’s going to lead to “So. Many. Drones.”

With more and more people turning to online retail, this number will only increase. Considering the fuss kicked up over the not-so-aesthetic wind farms and solar panel fields, is the human race really going to want to see the global sky infested with delivery drones? Probably not.

A prototype of Amazon's delivery drone in action
A prototype of Amazon’s delivery drone in action

So, how has the rest of the world reacted to the proposal? It’s hard to imagine that Amazon’s rivals in the online retail world are going to take kindly to being side-lined. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) haven’t exactly been co-operative either. And it’s not just big corporate groups and the authorities who aren’t playing ball. Hobbyists and model makers have voiced their complaints. Currently, they can fly their aircrafts up to 400ft., however under the Amazon proposal, they would face future restrictions of 200ft.

Although I for one am very excited at the prospect of receiving my sixth Apple Lightning cable in thirty minutes, the impact of the proposal could be huge. The reaction of other online giants will be either to implement their own super-speedy delivery method, or risk losing out on customers who increasingly want things NOW. These businesses, like Asos for example, will want to give their customers products in minutes, too. Having said that, there will always remain skeptical consumers happy to wait a few days for their faux sheepskin rug from Next Home, for example. However in all likelihood, this could be the next innovation in online shopping. Amazon have even warned the American Congress that the economy stands to lose out should they continue to hold up their airborne deliveries with excessive safety measures.

Now, take a look at the bigger picture. If drones can send packages, why not, in the future, people? Once 3D printing takes off in the consumer market, anyone will be able to print out their own drone and use it for whatever they see fit. Don’t fancy walking to the shop to buy milk? Jump on your new drone. Or even send your drone (after very careful programming, please) to pick up the milk itself.

But, as is always the case, progress demands destruction, and the widespread use of these drones in the future will come with a price. One obvious pitfall which comes to mind is the effect on employment. Gone would be the days of the delivery van, and thus their drivers. And what about production line jobs, when drones have the ability to fly into a warehouse, select the product and be on their merry way? As well as this, there are huge privacy implications. Aside from being used for military purposes, we already know that drones are used by private detectives to listen in to conversations and exchanges. Do we really want endless hordes of drones overhead when they have this kind of capacity?

Amazon’s proposal stands testimony to the fact that money is power – but with aerial hobbyists, conservationists, the FAA and not to mention on-going international conflict in their way, the company will have to pull out all the stops to convince the world that it’s worth it.

Written by Malek Murison

Malek Murison is a freelance tech journalist working closely with clients in the drone industry.

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