De­liv­ery drones can­not de­liver the goods

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

The cri­sis caused by e-bike traf­fic bans in sev­eral Chi­nese cities makes one won­der if new­gen­er­a­tions of drones might take the place of ur­ban couri­ers. Vi­sions of some mod­ern futuristic megac­ity with skies filled high, low and wide with nifty drones de­liv­er­ing South Korean cos­met­ics, ur­gent medicines and nanochip up­grades make for a nice place to live.

Yet the e-bike cri­sis forces us to re­think. It is risky to ride and risky to cross the street. So the net to clean up this semi-or­ga­nized chaos has se­verely de­terred the couri­ers who had sud­denly be­come ubiq­ui­tous in just the past 15 years.

Seat­tle-based Ama­zon rev­o­lu­tion­ized elec­tronic re­tail­ing un­der the bold in­spi­ra­tion of Jeff Be­zos, and is now vig­or­ously pro­mot­ing drone de­liv­ery as a test con­cept. The prin­ci­pal tar­get is de­liv­ery of pack­ages weigh­ing less than 2.2 kilo­grams within a ra­dius of 15 kilo­me­ters. It is claimed this cov­ers 86 per­cent of Ama­zon de­liv­er­ies.

The ob­sta­cles, though, may be in­sur­mount­able, be­gin­ning with flight rules that are in­creas­ing dras­ti­cally as hobby drones for aerial pho­tog­ra­phy be­come pop­u­lar. To test tech­nolo­gies with­out US reg­u­la­tions Ama­zon is work­ing on the Cana­dian side of the bor­der and has an­other pi­lot study in Switzer­land. YouTube pro­mo­tions by Ama­zon are on the one hand tempt­ing us to be­lieve things we need could lit­er­ally be com­ing down out of the sky, and on the other hand leav­ing us skep­ti­cally won­der­ing why it looks so easy.

In re­al­ity, the con­trast of fic­tion and fact would even be worse than car com­mer­cials that por­tray your dream car alone on the free­way, as against the re­al­ity of Bei­jing mo­torists’ crawl to the suburbs over the week­ends. The reader is in­vited to project in the mind, the air traf­fic be­tween ware­house and your house if it ap­proached the 400 dis­patches a minute now leav­ing a courier hub. Bat­tle of Bri­tain drama, com­plete with midair crashes. In the United States, the Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Au­thor­ity has al­ready done the pro­jec­tions and has in­sti­tuted dra­co­nian reg­u­la­tions that will en­sure there can be no ad hoc en­ter­prises do­ing mod­ern-day pony ex­press dashes across the sky­line. Most coun­tries will fol­low this trend.

In China there is no way the cow­boy e-bike riders will take to the skies with re­mote con­trolled drones. There may be some unau­tho­rized at­tempts but laws will pre­vail.

Ama­zon and other pi­o­neers such as Flirtey can demon­strate de­liv­ery of one pack­age to one place, but un­less that is a vi­tal pack­age a cus­tomer will pay a very high price for, it won’t take off. Res­cue ser­vices and med­i­cal emer­gency teams may in fu­ture use drones in spe­cial cir­cum­stan- ces to de­liver blood or some other key item, but noth­ing like a reg­u­lar courier ser­vice.

To ad­dress the crowded sky is­sue en­gi­neers have in­tro­duced Sense AndAvoid tech­nolo­gies and proven that a drone can steer around a hot air bal­loon. But SAAis not even used in­2Droad traf­fic with ve­hi­cles as plat­forms so there is no hope for an or­derly crowded sky.

One par­tially sub­sti­tute courier de­liv­ery sys­tem is the net­work of brave cy­clists that de­liver im­por­tant pack­ages across the cen­tral busi­ness dis­tricts of some ma­jor mod­ern cities in 30 min­utes. It seems un­think­able in China, pos­si­bly be­cause of the reck­less in­de­pen­dent spirit as pop­u­lar­ized by the jump­ing, spin­ning couri­ers of NewYork.

Per­haps the prag­matic so­lu­tion is to re­think the elec­tric three­wheeler tech­nol­ogy that has glad­dened the lives of hun­dreds of mil­lions of con­sumers across China with de­liv­er­ies that are there wait­ing when they come home from work. The fi­nal word on try­ing to do that with drones comes from Aus­tralian drone ex­pert, Tim Blum­field, who is li­censed to op­er­ate a fleet of spe­cial pur­pose drones for re­mote area sur­veys: “In the city? Or­di­nary pack­age de­liv­ery? An apoc­a­lypse of bib­li­cal pro­por­tions.” Surely China does not want that.

The author is a fel­low at the En­vi­ron­ment Fu­tures Re­search In­sti­tute, Grif­fith Univer­sity, Aus­tralia.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.