Drones are coming to Naples. And not just the kind you buy at Walmart for your grand-kids. Eye-in-the-sky commercial drones are becoming mainstream. They’re cheaper than manned aircraft, and they can swoop and maneuver just about anywhere.
With half a dozen drone companies now operating in the Naples area, you can arrange aerial photography for weddings, monitor roof repair, document storm damage for insurance, even track game for hunting.
Real estate companies take aerial shots of homes for sale. Developers map construction sites. Law enforcement scans the wild for lost hikers. The Coast Guard searches for missing boaters. New uses are being developed every day. Most important is commercial delivery, bringing packages to your door by air. United Parcel Service got FAA approval last year for aerial delivery to rural areas in Virginia. Amazon and Uber are vying for similar approvals.
At stake is a vast market. We’re talking about food take-out and retail delivery of clothing, books, groceries. Limited by traffic and cost, overland delivery takes too long in this hurry-up world. Driverless cars are one way to cut costs, but drones are cheaper and
faster. Experts say the round trip from restaurant or retail store and back should take no more than 10 minutes.
Australia has had some success. The Wall Street Journal reports that Alphabet drones made more than 3,000 deliveries in Canberra last year, transporting ice cream, medicine and even coffee to homes in minutes – and without spilling. Singapore and Iceland
will be next.
Not surprisingly, health care has been an early beneficiary. Rwanda uses drones to deliver medical supplies to remote locations where people are isolated by mountains and bad roads. Tanzania is gearing up 120 autonomous aircraft to transport blood and vaccines to scattered medical clinics.
In the United States, UPS is working with CVS to test drone delivery of prescription drugs. A trial with a medical center in Virginia showed emergency deliveries could be made in as little as three minutes.
When can we expect widespread use? Sooner than you might expect. A delivery drone could appear in your driveway in as little as two years. Last month the FAA laid out a comprehensive plan for regulating commercial flight – certifying safety and framing how and where the drones might be flown.
Over 400,000 unmanned aircraft are waiting for the green light. Delivering small packages is one thing. But what about delivering people? That’s the real challenge. Where are Frank Loesser’s “horseless carriages that fly?” They’re coming too. Flying cars – with vertical takeoff and landing – are being designed by nearly a dozen companies around the world, including heavy hitters like French aircraft-maker Airbus.
The concept is a lightweight vehicle with multiple rotors powered by batteries and
controlled by computers, either on board or on the ground. For this to work, efficient lightweight batteries must be developed.
It’s not a matter of whether, but of when. Uber hopes to test autonomous airborne taxi service by 2025. Passengers would use a smartphone to program their trip or, more likely, be guided by an earthbound command center.
While there are many obstacles still to overcome, optimism runs high. An Airbus executive said, “In as little as 10 years, we will have drones that set new standards for product shipments and drones that revolutionize urban travel for millions of people.”
The sky may indeed be the limit