Florida tackles the issue of drone delivery... on the ground

Assuming that we can briefly move past our ongoing concerns over robots gunning us down and drones with pistols, there remains hope that these new, remote controlled vehicles might make some improvements in package delivery. One big part of the problem is the people from the government who are here to help you by regulating how drones might be used in commercial endeavors. I was sent an article from SaintPetersBlog about one possible approach being debated in Florida this year which would allow for more drone deliveries, but this is tackling a different technology sector than the one we normally talk about. These are ground based robots.

A bill filed Tuesday would allow delivery drones to operate in Florida.

The legislation (SB 460), however, focuses on ground drones, or “personal delivery devices.”

Such a unit is defined as a “motorized device for use primarily on sidewalks and crosswalks at a maximum speed of 10 miles per hour, which weighs 50 pounds or less excluding cargo.”

London-based Starship Technologies makes a six-wheeled model that is beginning to make deliveries in California and Washington, D.C.

As I said, this is a different approach to automated delivery. This short TechCrunch video provides a demonstration of how these ground crawling drones work and includes an interview with somebody from Starship.

You don’t want to rule out anything entirely, but there are some obvious concerns with this approach. First of all, the range on these things is really limited to a single neighborhood so they need many local “hubs” for the drones to operate out of. There’s also the congestion issue, because the miniature trucks will be competing with pedestrians and bikes on sidewalks and in crosswalks. Also, on the ground the drone is vulnerable to mischief and theft. The Starship rep addresses this and writes it off as being not much of a problem, but a fifty pound drone that can only do 10 miles per hour sounds like a fairly easy target to me.

Flying drones delivering reasonably small packages sounds like something with a lot more potential, but then you’re dealing with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). They’re already putting such restrictive regulations on drones that using them for wide scale delivery may turn out to be virtually impossible in the United States. If they can’t fly over tall buildings and aren’t allowed to leave the line of sight of the operator (both of which are currently in the regulatory planning model) then they immediately become essentially useless for broad based delivery.

I’m not going to knock Florida for trying to do something in terms of innovation with this technology, but the ground delivery route doesn’t sound like an answer to me. And if we want our packages taking flight we’ll have to deal with the FAA instead of petty thieves. Come to think of it, I’m not entirely sure which one is worse.