This could either be seen as cool, groovy, great news or yet one more thing to worry about, depending on your preferences. Amazon has pulled off their first commercial drone delivery. That’s not all that remarkable considering all the work and testing that’s been going on in that field. But the kicker here is that they did it in thirteen minutes from the moment the customer hit the “Buy Now” button on their phone. Call it a gimmick if you like, but that’s pretty darned impressive. (The Mirror)
Amazon has announced its drone delivery service is now live in the UK and has completed its first delivery.
The retail giant said the first delivery was an Amazon Fire TV Stick and a bag of popcorn that was carried to a customer in Cambridge. Apparently, it took only 13 minutes from clicking the buy button on the website to having the order at the door.
The company is bringing the drone deliveries in slowly – and orders are limited to packages weighing under 30 pounds (13kg).
This is technically a live service, but as the article points out, it’s still extremely limited. You have to live withing a specific range of their single drone enabled warehouse and they can only handle packages up to five pounds in weight. But the fact that they are doing it shows how this could roll out everywhere before too long provided you’re not ordering anything too large. (It might be a while before a drone shows up with your new flat screen television.)
The other thing worth noting here is that this is taking place in the United Kingdom. Why not back home in the United States? As usual it’s because of America’s cumbersome government regulations.
Amazon has opted to launch the service in the UK rather than the US because of the permissions it has been able to receive from regulators. For example, pilots are allowed to operate the drones beyond the line of sight in rural areas.
Each pilot is able to control more than one drone and the quadcopters themselves are able to sense and avoid obstacles – like birds or lamposts.
We’ve written here before about the new FAA drone regulations and how they would render drones mostly useless in the majority of cases. Their line of sight requirement in particular will keep Amazon from doing this for US customers unless they get a waiver. Let’s face it… if you have to have an operator following the drone around closely enough to see it you might as well just skip the aircraft and pay the operator to deliver the package.
From the technical side it’s even more interesting to see that Amazon is already able to have some limited artificial intelligence in the drones in terms of avoiding collisions. Also, operators can command more than one drone at the same time. That concept may allow for mass deliveries in the future and the American military is currently seeking out ways to put literal swarms of drones in the air similar to Ender’s Game. (NextGov)
In “Ender’s Game,” humans use simple gestures, voice commands and other low-bandwidth signals to command whole fleets of unmanned ships. Now, the U.S. military is looking for something similar, to help develop battle-drone tactics for next-generation urban warfare.
The OFFensive Swarm Enabled Tactics Program, or OFFSET, seeks to help foot soldiers wield the rapidly advancing power of drone swarms, and that starts with creating a controller—“An advanced human-swarm interface to enable users to monitor and direct potentially hundreds of unmanned platforms simultaneously in real time,” as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency put it Wednesday.
“If we’re successful, this work could also bring entirely new scalable, dynamic capabilities to the battlefield, such as distributed perception, robust and resilient communications, dispersed computing and analytics, and adaptive collective behaviors,” program manager Timothy Chung said in the DARPA statement.
This technology is probably coming, and possibly much sooner than anyone anticipated. Most cool technology shows up in science fiction before it arrives on our doorsteps and swarms of battle drones conducting warfare in an entirely new way no longer seems like fiction at all. In fact, it’s almost a certainty. But if we can do it with weapons I suppose we can do it with books and DVDs. Share that swarm technology with Amazon, guys. In the future we’ll all be able to put off our Christmas shopping until December 23rd.