Incoming! Incoming! This is the year the drone wars begin
by Jackie A
4 months ago
Google's got in first with Project Wing
They beat everyone (mostly Amazon and Uber) to become the very first drone operator to get a stamp of approval in March from the FAA and the US Department of Transportation — a legal status that allows it to begin making deliveries to customers. Rural communities in Blacksburg and Christiansburg, Virginia, expect groundbreaking deliveries (weighing no more than 3.3lbs) later this year. So how does the delivery actually happen? The drones hover about 23 feet above the ground and then lower packages down with a cable that's retracted after the package touches the ground. Dogs and children beware.
Uber's food delivery drones began testing this month
Watch a McDonald's burger being airlifted away to land on top of an Uber cab this month in San Diego. It appears a ridiculously expensive and people-heavy way to deliver a cold burger, but hey it's a start. Uber desperately wanted flying taxis, but last year CEO Dara Khosrowshahi admitted food delivery drones were a more achievable priority by 2021. It hasn't abandoned its flying taxi dream - this month Uber announced it will launch them in LA and Dallas-Fort Worth by 2023, with testing starting next year.
Amazon's Prime Air fleet ready for lift-off
This month Amazon announced it was to begin “delivering packages via drones to customers within months.” After six years of testing, the drones will deliver packages weighing up to five pounds, with a flying range of 15 miles, under 400 feet and in 30 minutes or less. Little landing mats serve as mini “helipads” that tell the drones where to leave the customer’s package. Large porches/driveways only - apartments owners, forget it. Small problem - they have yet to get FAA approval. (In 2016 it signed a contract with the UK government to test its delivery drones in British airspace.)
Tracking Medical drone drops via UPS has begun
In March this year our favourite parcel tracker launched “a groundbreaking new logistics service” using drones to deliver blood and stuff to a hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina. Google got there first but the FAA is watching UPS closely - regulators continue to debate allowing drones to operate outside a line of vision, at night or over heavily populated areas.
Shell's got some buzzy new safety inspectors
Who needs fallible humans when you can get a fleet of drones with high-res cameras and infrared sensors sweeping around the energy company's Houston Technology Centre in Texas, looking for structural problems across the 1.2 million square-foot facility? It's a test programme ATM, but data from the drones is relayed to machine-learning algorithms to detect problems in plant equipment. See ya later, safety officers.
Easyjet's speedy damage inspectors
A full human inspection of a plane takes about a day to complete - drones do it in a few hours. The airline began using UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) in 2015 to help inspect aircraft and is considering using them to drop off spare parts to engineers (they'll be gone next).
The BBC's bird's-eye news team
The Beeb got into drones super early - it's been using them since 2013 - and is one of a handful of media organisations worldwide with its own in-house drone team. Its 2015 drone video of previously unseen views of the Auschwitz concentration camp, shot to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the camp’s liberation, went viral and has been viewed 21m times.
Facebook's forever-in-the-air internet drone
Facebook's dream was to have a fleet of unmanned planes soaring high above commercial air traffic at altitudes of 60,000 feet, providing internet connectivity to the world below and ten times faster. It was better, they thought, than investing in underground fibre optic cabling at $22,000 a mile. Tests of its Aquila drone began in 2016, got to a measly 3,000 feet in 2017 and was canned in 2018. But. There's always a but with Facebook - the company reportedly began a partnership late last year with Airbus to test solar-powered internet drones in Australia.
Apple's eye-in-the-sky mapping the world
Last year Apple got federal approval to test drones over North Carolina that can generate three-dimensional models of an area’s topography for Apple Maps. Using drones lets Apple collect visual data faster and more accurately. They insist identifying faces, license plates etc would be blurred. Let's see.
Forget commercial wars - drones have changed the ways humans fight real, ugly, killing-people wars. And Russia unveiled its latest weapon last week - a drone seen here to look like an owl that can sneak up on the enemy. The giveaway is this thing has no beak - and doubtlessly isn't as silent as the real thing. Still. *sad face*