Brought to You by Drones

All around the world, the de­liv­ery guy is a quad­copter.

Air & Space Smithsonian - - Front Page - BY RE­BECCA MAKSEL

Seven rea­sons the au­thor thinks it can be done—and soon.

DRONES HAVE BEEN in the de­liv­ery busi­ness since they were in­vented, de­liv­er­ing data, imagery, and, more re­cently, ord­nance. But two years ago on “60 Min­utes,” when Jeff Be­zos showed a ware­house full of drones stamped with the Ama­zon ar­row and an­nounced half-hour com­mer­cial de­liv­ery by as early as 2017, the pos­si­bil­i­ties for cargo drones seemed to in­stantly ex­pand.

What didn’t ex­pand was airspace. Un­der to­day’s Fed­eral Aviation Ad­min­is­tra­tion reg­u­la­tions, op­er­a­tors may ap­ply for a Sec­tion 333 Ex­emp­tion, which al­lows them “to per­form com­mer­cial op­er­a­tions in low-risk, con­trolled en­vi­ron­ments.” Sig­nif­i­cantly, the rules bar op­er­a­tors “from al­low­ing any ob­ject to be dropped from” a drone.

So how plau­si­ble are de­liv­ery drones, re­ally? Fly­ing pack­ages in an ur­ban area is fraught with chal­lenges: Go too high and the drone could in­ter­fere with an air­liner’s airspace; too low and it has to nav­i­gate around build­ings and trees—not to men­tion peo­ple who would like to snag a drone in ad­di­tion to its pack­age.

The haz­ards haven’t stopped dozens of com­pa­nies from run­ning tri­als—or stag­ing pub­lic­ity stunts. You de­cide which of the fol­low­ing is which.

im­pe­tus of the project was Sin­ga­pore’s la­bor short­age. The na­tion’s res­i­dents shun food-and-bev­er­age ser­vice, notes a 2012 report by the Asi­aEurope Foun­da­tion. Many of the po­si­tions are filled by for­eign work­ers, who make up 40 per­cent of Sin­ga­pore’s work­force. But in the past two years, “we have en­coun­tered a se­vere man­power crunch due to the tight­en­ing of for­eign worker poli­cies,” Ed­ward Chia, Tim­bré’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, told the BBC in Fe­bru­ary.

As an in­cen­tive to com­pen­sate with drones, busi­nesses that au­to­mate jobs also re­ceive govern­ment sub­si­dies—up to 70 per­cent of tech­nol­ogy costs.

Woon doesn’t think cus­tomers will mind the change. “When was the last time you ac­tu­ally talked to the per­son de­liv­er­ing the food?” he said to CNBC in Fe­bru­ary. “Most peo­ple con­tinue to talk, to carry on the con­ver­sa­tion. Most peo­ple don’t say ‘Thank you.’ ”

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