In one of 60 Minutes’ more memorable recent interviews, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos showed off his company’s splashiest latest project: drones that can deliver products. Since that interview last December, Google has made headlines with its announcement of Project Wing – a longer-range delivery system prototype that you can watch a demo of here [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cRTNvWcx9Oo]. Now let’s be clear, both Amazon and Google aren’t going to be delivering anything to your door, your customer or your fulfillment center in 2014. Yet, the drone movement is gaining serious momentum and it will eventually become much more than just a PR grabber within the news cycle.
The technology to deliver goods via remote-controlled or GPS-enabled UAVs – or unmanned aerial vehicles – exists today. What’s keeping manufacturers from ramping up production are current Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules that restrict commercial use of drones in the U.S. Right now, industries must ask for what amounts to special permission to fly a drone – although the actual rules are murky. Amateurs can basically fly drones anywhere, as long as they’re not near airports, military bases or national parks.
The big push at the moment in drone technology is focused on safety and mapping. UAVs are being developed to aid search and rescue operations in hard-to-get-to places as well as to chart large spaces like farms and vineyards. Realtors are more frequently using drones to get great aerial views of properties, although some attempts have been flagged by federal officials. There are some things that are being delivered by drones, either as marketing stunts or for convenience. A quick list includes pizza (in Russia), tacos (beta tested) and glasses of champagne (in a California hotel).
The arguments against drone use are not to be taken lightly, however. Drones aren’t perfect and can crash, cause accidents and just frighten unsuspecting people. There are also privacy concerns that no regulations or executive order will ever be able to properly deal with. In our need-to-have-it-now society, though, the speed advantages of potential drone deliveries are significant. While it’s unlikely drones will take off in fleets from warehouses in the near term, the first waves of UAVs may be positioned on top of delivery trucks and be tasked with very local deliveries, cutting down on potential aerial accidents. In fact, the University of Cincinnati recently partnered with firm AMP Electric Vehicles to develop a similar local delivery model – this could be the future.
In the meantime, execs at ad specialty companies – considering the amount of items shipped in the industry everyday – should give some thought to how they might use drones in their businesses. It’s not far-fetched at all. Actually, the ad specialty industry will be seeing drones in action sooner than you might think.