What Will Drones Deliver?

Amazon’s announcement that it plans to deliver packages via drones is both incredible and disturbing. On one hand, imagine receiving your new panini press or Duck Dynasty DVD set in minutes. Shopaholics could go back to spending Thanksgiving evening with their families rather than fighting each other over Black Friday bargains. And chronic procrastinators could order gifts minutes before Christmas!

But beyond the gee-whizz factor and the benefits of getting everything we order in our hands even faster, the technology raises a number of intriguing and disturbing questions:

  • What will happen when thousands of drones crisscross the skies, delivering everything from pizzas to flowers? Could these devices interfere with commercial flights?
  • What will happen when the drones fail and crash into a house or car—or children playing in their yard?
  • What will happen when hackers figure out how to override the devices and steal deliveries?
  • What will happen if gun-toting luddites use them for target practice?

From an enterprise perspective, there are also countless IT and logistics issues to examine. A network of drones would require entirely new systems and software, along with a radically different distribution model.

The sobering reality is that we have now dipped our toes into the science-fiction world we once imagined. The military has already deployed UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) to battle terrorism, and drones are increasingly used for a growing array of purposes, ranging from monitoring crops to catching poachers.

In 2009, FedEx founder Fred Smith told Wired magazine that he foresaw the day when the delivery firm would use drones, potentially providing a highly efficient and emission-free delivery system.

At some point, the FAA will lift its current ban on the use of drones for commercial purposes. While Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has successfully captured the public’s imagination during the busy holiday shopping season, I’m hoping the concept stays grounded for quite some time.

Just as we don’t need more cable channels or passengers constantly talking into cell phones on airplanes, we certainly don’t need an endless array of flying devices whirling into every corner of our existence.