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Why Drones Could Save Door-To-Door Mail Delivery (vice.com) 156

An anonymous reader writes: Online shopping aside, people don't have as many physical items to mail as they used to, which is largely the reason why Canada Post announced it would be phasing out door-to-door mail delivery. Motherboard reports: "The corporation is exploring future use of drone technology to make deliveries, according to a report from the Canadian Press. At this point, Canada Post is engaging in a 'proper exercise,' a spokesperson told the Canadian Press, adding that the project is in its earliest, experimental stages. According to Graham Scott, the deputy editor of Canadian Business, even if mail-delivering drones remain a theoretical concept for now, it's inevitable they'll be considered as a way to drive costs down. There are many good reasons why mail delivery drones may never get off the ground. For one thing, current technology limits them to delivering one item of post at a time, which is tremendously impractical. But, as we've seen with the rolling out of community mailboxes -- a program that was put on hold earlier this year when the review was launched -- the invisible hand of the market is always looking to drive costs down. So don't count out flying robot deliveries for good. From a manager's perspective at least, drones have their advantages. They don't suffer from dog bites, and they (ideally) don't deviate from their routes. 'Drones don't twist their ankle, they don't get tired, and they don't form a union.' said Scott." In 2013, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos revealed during a CBS 60 Minutes interview that the company is working on a service called "Prime Air" to deliver packages by autonomous octocopter drones within 30 minutes of hitting the "buy" button. The Guardian reported last year that Amazon has been testing its drone delivery service at a secret site in Canada, following repeated warnings by the e-commerce giant that it would go outside the U.S. to bypass what it sees as the U.S. federal government's lethargic approach to the new technology.
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Why Drones Could Save Door-To-Door Mail Delivery

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Which now require the operator to have an unaided line of sight to the drone at all times.

    • Which now require the operator to have an unaided line of sight to the drone at all times.

      The article is about Canada, where FAA regulations don't apply. America has dumb regulations on drones. Most other countries are far more sensible.

      • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Thursday June 23, 2016 @12:04AM (#52371821) Journal

        The article is about Canada, where FAA regulations don't apply. America has dumb regulations on drones. Most other countries are far more sensible.

        Maybe Canada has fewer goofballs with drones who think their hobby takes precedence over people's lives and property.

        http://www.deseretnews.com/art... [deseretnews.com]

        • Maybe Canada has fewer goofballs with drones who think their hobby takes precedence over people's lives and property.

          America has much more permissive regulations for "hobbyists" than for professionals. The regulations are not about safety, they are about restricting drone operators from offering services that compete with piloted aircraft.

          • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

            Still writing some of the regulations on them actually, and in other cases the laws and regulations already cover things like drones(aerial or ground). [tc.gc.ca] Around 25 years ago they put in regulations where RC planes/boats can be used, they simply extended the rules to cover drones of various types. Makes it nice and easy.

            • Distance matters. What if drones were combined with automated delivery trucks? The truck carries a lot of mail for many addresses in an area, and carries it to that area; drones carries mail from the trucks to the addresses. The drones can re-charge at the trucks, and each truck might have several drones making simultaneous deliveries. None of these drones need fly especially high or far, to make its delivery.
  • by Nyder ( 754090 ) on Wednesday June 22, 2016 @11:44PM (#52371741) Journal

    For example, the lawsuits from people who are suing because a mail deliver drone went out of control and crashed thru a huge window, or hit their 3 year old kid. What is the cost to find the drones that malfunction and crash in places that are hard to get to. They will need to recover the mail so it can still be delivered.

    Sounds like a great idea, but honestly, doesn't seem like it's going to work as well as they want it to.

    • This is why there's the rush to externalize costs. Property damage, injury to some three year old who doesn't have enough sense to get out of the way? Don't bother us with this! Haven't you heard of tort reform? Get out of the way of progress.

      That's the line we should expect for quite some time.

      • Yeah, because there's never been a mail truck fire, or a kid running his skateboard behind a backing-up UPS truck.
    • A drone crashed in a hard to reach place is a hell of a lot less expensive than a work comp claim and its associated overhead.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The anti worker and anti human sentiment around here is unbelievable. The 'invisible hand' of the market is nothing more than the media pushed wishes of a bunch of sociopaths. We're taking what was a thriving society that dared to do great things and destroying it. Not improving it--destroying it. Improving would imply that what comes next is better. We used to do that too. Now all we know how to do is drive down incomes and standards of living.

        Ever ask yourselves why it is we allegedly can't afford t

        • Ever ask yourselves why it is we allegedly can't afford things that earlier versions of our society with less wealth and less knowledge were able to? The answer is because back then we had less wealth concentration, we kept the rich on a leash and didn't let them do whatever they wanted and yes, that meant regulations, it meant unions, and it meant jobs with actual benefits. It's why you will never have even a fraction of what your parents and grandparents had because you willingly give it all away to the people who already have too much.

          You might want to remove your rose-colored glasses.

          Most job benefits are recent enough that my parents never had them, and my grandparents sure as hell never had them.

          Unions were great 50+ years ago, but now they're just another big business. My employer is a privately owned company that does not need unions because they treat their people fairly, and provide both good pay and good benefits. That didn't stop a union from trying to force their way into one of our manufacturing plants. They convinced e

          • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

            > Most job benefits are recent enough that my parents never had them, and my grandparents sure as hell never had them.

            That's bullshit for both cases.

            Even the new classes of benefits that have been invented in more recent times are more of a replacement of older benefits that got taken away due to the decline of unions.

            What are you? 12? Some of us have been around for awhile and remember this shit. You can't just make up things and expect people to swallow them.

            HELL, union bennies are often cited by conse

    • by jandersen ( 462034 ) on Thursday June 23, 2016 @04:24AM (#52372431)

      - not to mention the fact that they can - and therefore will - be intercepted by criminals. The risk of doing so will be much lower than robbing a postman, which to a criminal is almost the equivalent of being legal.

      • by vittal ( 52825 )

        And so, to protect them from criminals, the drones will eventually be armed.

        At that point, they'll be just like human delivery people - having the ability to "go postal".

      • - not to mention the fact that they can - and therefore will - be intercepted by criminals. The risk of doing so will be much lower than robbing a postman, which to a criminal is almost the equivalent of being legal.

        Oh common, why would you compare robbery against a person with attacking an inanimate thing. Instead compare the number of times parcels are directly stolen from people's property and out of peoples mailboxes, a current incredibly easy target which non the less is a major non-issue.

    • Two sectors of the economy will prosper with drone delivery: pediatric and veterinary hospitals.

    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      How about just a lot of practical reasons.
      1. Short range.
      2. Low payload.
      3. Problems with high wind.
      4. Problems with rain.
      5. Problems with cold. AKA batteries do not work all that well in cold weather.
      Drones are great for some tasks but this is beginning to sound way to much like a Helicopter in every garage fantasies from the the late 40s hear 50s.
      http://www.airspacemag.com/his... [airspacemag.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "Drones don't twist their ankle, they don't get tired, and they don't form a union."

    Well, human employees don't fall from the sky and cause property damage, injury and death.

    • by Yvan256 ( 722131 ) on Wednesday June 22, 2016 @11:53PM (#52371779) Homepage Journal

      Well, human employees don't fall from the sky and cause property damage, injury and death.

      Well, I guess you don't know my friend Steve Austin. He used to be an astronaut, you know. His last crash cost him about six million dollars, man.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    what happens when its freezing rain? i could see this working in pheonix or vegas.. but i cant imagine any mail getting delivered in the winter..

    • As opposed to community mailboxes that have a tendency to freeze shut? People had taken to using lighters and spray bottles of antifreeze to get their mail.

    • by arth1 ( 260657 )

      what happens when its freezing rain? i could see this working in pheonix or vegas.. but i cant imagine any mail getting delivered in the winter..

      Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these drones from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

  • by justcauseisjustthat ( 1150803 ) on Thursday June 23, 2016 @12:17AM (#52371863)
    Autonomous vehicles will bring the packages/mail into a certain range and depending on location a drone or bot will get out of the autonomous vehicles to do the final delivery. I can see moving forward where places will have drone/bot delivery slots for mail, packages and food deliveries.
    • We have drones deliverying drones to other drones via an autonomous vehicle and humans lethargically watching Game of Thrones s99e02.

      No work anymore for the less gifted with an IQ of 110 and less.

      Paradise, here we come!

      • Without proper planning, the world economy is going to tank, just think of 3.5 million (in the US alone) well paid truck drivers being unemployed and needing retraining.
    • Autonomous vehicles will bring the packages/mail into a certain range and depending on location a drone or bot will get out of the autonomous vehicles to do the final delivery. I can see moving forward where places will have drone/bot delivery slots for mail, packages and food deliveries.

      Yes, this is what I expect as well. I think there will probably be a human on board to manage the drones, sort packages and deal with any problems that crop up, and there will probably be a human staff at a central office with control links to manage drones that can't work out delivery locations, or run into other problems, but I think the notion of an autonomous drone carrier makes a lot of sense. This is particularly true in suburban areas which are sufficiently dispersed that driving up and down every st

  • Stop putting junk mail (literal trash, it goes right in the bin) into my mailbox! Seriously, it's >95% of the mail I receive. I get maybe 2 actual pieces of mail that I want/need every month.

    Here's a better, low-tech solution. Only deliver the real mail, say once every week. You do rolling delivery across different regions of a city/county/whatever (i.e. the day you get mail delivered is different depending on where you are). That's it, you've just cut costs significantly, with little-to-no loss of quali

    • by Anonymous Coward

      it's >95% of the mail I receive

      Only deliver the real mail, say once every week.

      So you'll reduce the mail delivery frequency by 83% (going from delivering six days per week to one day per week), but reduce the mail volume by 95%. The mail volume is what pays for the mail to be delivered. Do you honestly not see the problem here? You're reducing the income by 95% and the cost by (at *most*) 83%. So no, this brilliant idea won't save the post office -- it'll put the post office in even more dire straits.

      • Mail delivery was already reduced to three days a week, before they stopped door to door delivery altogether. Undoing that was an election promise of the current government.

      • it's >95% of the mail I receive

        Only deliver the real mail, say once every week.

        So you'll reduce the mail delivery frequency by 83% (going from delivering six days per week to one day per week), but reduce the mail volume by 95%. The mail volume is what pays for the mail to be delivered. Do you honestly not see the problem here? You're reducing the income by 95% and the cost by (at *most*) 83%. So no, this brilliant idea won't save the post office -- it'll put the post office in even more dire straits.

        Much like spam e-mail, I'd love to see the validation of revenue generated from filling my mailbox with SHIT I use to light my grill with to justify the 13% delta you've identified.

      • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

        People want to socialize everything else. Why worry about how much it costs? Socialize the damn post office and forget about "profit". Don't treat it like a business because it really isn't and never was. Like any other proper government service, it's something that private enterprise can't or won't do.

        I think I will watch The Postman tonight...

    • Are you planning to pay for mail delivery of only what's important to you? At least in the US, the sender pays the cost to send mail. If you'd like to reverse that so you only get what you want then you'll need to make it recipient pays. Then you can have your couple of important items and stand some vague chance of actually getting this to work.

      Even with that I think the government would like to see certain kinds of mail get to people, so... I still doubt it would be practical, but it would be closer to wo

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Junk mail pretty much subsidies first-class mail. Without junk, first-class would be a lot more expensive.

    • If you're going to have snail mail, it has to be picked up at least three days a week to be useful, and it always has to be the same days. Cutting two days out of the schedule entirely would be a good plan, though. I would argue that it's well past time for most of the crap we do in the mail to be done online, but our government can't even manage the most basic security so I guess we can't have that any time soon.

    • Stop putting junk mail (literal trash, it goes right in the bin) into my mailbox!

      You seem oblivious to the fact that the post office is only financially viable due to the money they make off bulk mailed advertising. Stopping the junk mail would mean increasing your taxes to offset it.

      • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

        I don't care if the post office is financially viable. It's rightful place is as a government service that exists DESPITE it's ability to be profitable.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    A lot of the discussion on the problems with using drones seems to assume the drone will go directly to the customer. It seems several of these issues could be addressed by having a delivery or courier meet the drone half way and then performing the actual direct to customer delivery. This would reduce the number of times a delivery person visits home base while they make multiple deliveries a day where the items aren't all available at the beginning of the day. While Amazon Now would be example of such

  • by the_Bionic_lemming ( 446569 ) on Thursday June 23, 2016 @12:45AM (#52371935)

    So when you have very windy days, what happens?

    Also, for delivery in crime areas, how does the drone open your screen door and put the package in between your front door when you aren't home?

    What about winter weather, when it's blustery, snowing hard - are they just going to sod off a delivery when there's only clear weather?

    And during thunderstorms, are the packages going to be water proof? How much is the added cost to make it not only delivered whenever the weather allows it, but also to ensure that the package itself can withstand the elements) no more cardboard).

    Need it overnight? Well, that's going to increase in cost cause when they fire folks so drones can do the job, the last guy left is going to be real expensive to go the last mile.

    • Yes, because not a single person in the entire world has ever thought about any of those issues until you did, just now.
    • > are the packages going to be water proof? How much is the added cost to make it not only delivered whenever the weather allows it, but also to ensure that the package itself can withstand the elements) no more cardboard).

      Plastic Bag

      > What about winter weather, when it's blustery, snowing hard

      You may have noticed the airport doesn't get shut down all that more often than the streets do. We're not talking about little toy drones that can barely carry a Go-Pro, these are big ones.

    • So when you have very windy days, what happens?

      Battery usage increases

      Also, for delivery in crime areas, how does the drone open your screen door and put the package in between your front door when you aren't home?

      Good question. How is the post man opening that screen door, and how does that magically prevent a thief from doing the same?

      As for the rest of your stuff why don't you just assume that the people who are investing millions of dollars into looking at these solutions haven't though about it as hard as you have for 30 seconds while reading slashdot. I'm sure they're that stupid.

      • So 60 MPH gusts like I had yesterday is naught?

        Theft of packages is sight driven, they see the package, they steal the package, but - and this is the hard part for fucking dipshits to understand so pay attention, if it's between a screen door and the door - - and this is the clever part - It's not VISIBLE to a passing thief!

        WOW Huh, Wholda thunk???

  • Just wait at mailbox to collect.

  • Here's a smarter solution for lower-cost door-to-door delivery:

    1) Use non-union labor to deliver the mail - just like newspaper carriers. Pull a Ronald Reagan and say GTFO - you're all fired. Let the expensive but obsolete union carriers fight it out in court while the system and public get used to mail delivery at 1/3 the cost.

    2) Deliver TWO days only. Not "no Saturdays", not "ever other day" - pick two days of the week and stagger them around the six days of delivery so you can get by with 1/3 the deli
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If you want a non-union courier, you can already use Fedex! But mysteriously, they're not 1/3 of the cost of UPS and USPS to customers. Maybe they're just pocketing all those extra savings? But wait, all those extra profits from charging market rates yet saving 2/3 of their costs also don't seem to be getting passed along to shareholders, because UPS is nearly triple Fedex's dividend yield. So what ever could some of the reasons for this? Hmmmm...

  • by nbritton ( 823086 ) on Thursday June 23, 2016 @02:42AM (#52372205)

    Do people just not understand physics? Do they honestly really think drones could take over package delivery?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    • Do people just not understand physics? Do they honestly really think drones could take over package delivery?

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      There are more issues than just energy efficiency, because there are a lot of costs in delivery operations other than energy. Also, while rolling is much more efficient than flying, routing a package car to every house, stopping and starting the multi-ton vehicle at each one, may actually be more energy-intensive than having said multi-ton vehicle carry a swarm of small drones into the subdivision and having them fly the last few hundred yards. And it may well make better use of the delivery system capital

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Truck with 5 drones and one driver, drones load up, fly out to 5 addresses nearby simultaneously and fly back.
      Any problems, the driver is alerted, gets out and tracks down the missing drone.

      The map in their van tells them the next optimal place to pull up to to serve the next 1-5 houses.
      Repeat.

      By delivering to 5 houses at the same time, all without getting out of the vehicle, this speeds up deliveries and saves on employee costs.

  • by Iamthecheese ( 1264298 ) on Thursday June 23, 2016 @03:23AM (#52372293)
    Go ahead. Call FedEx and say you want them to swing by your house every day just in case you have outgoing mail. Tell them volume will be very low. Tell them you won't sign a contract. And tell them you're willing to pay fifty cents per one ounce parcel to be sent anywhere in America. The US parcel service isn't afraid of change, they've embraced every bit of cost saving technology possible. But there are millions of Americans that the internet still doesn't reach. People too (literally) retarded, too poor or just unwilling to buy PC's and people too poor or too disabled to walk to the nearest parcel delivery store. (hundreds of miles for a few, by the way)

    Okay I wrote all that before I clicked the link: it's a bad link. Canada is actually using community boxes [nationalpost.com] which require a short walk. Less ideal but it still preserves the principle of the thing. My point is the USPS is the last remaining government service that's keeping millions of Americans from being completely priced out of being able to effectively communicate with the world. It's also offering a service no one else can. Government mail delivery won't be obsolete until another company can actually match its costs (and not by cutting services)
  • This is an example of a technology that holds promise when used responsibly, but also grave dangers and downsides.

    One of the dangers is how it can be abused.

    For example, if I were in charge of ISIS terror operations, I would now be researching the feasibility of delivering semtex parcels to e.g. veteran's homes in the US by drone. The addresses I can buy on the Internet, drones are available, and painting one in Amazon colours will ensure it doesn't attract a lot of attention when it takes off. The "pay

    • Already drones have been crash landing on the lawns of the White House. I assume by accident. It is not too much of a stretch to imagine a determined operator to fly a drone and do a targeted crash landing on the roof or into a window and have it detonate some form of explosive upon crashing.

  • Just owls
  • by AchilleTalon ( 540925 ) on Thursday June 23, 2016 @08:07AM (#52372953) Homepage
    I find it utterly stupid to look at flying drones for such a task rather than looking at walking drones. Keeping in the air mail is much more energy hungry than walking, it is subject to winds and bad weather and so on. While a walking drone has its limitations too, it is much less limitative than a flying drone for the same task. It seems the Jettson's syndrome is stricking back again.
    • I wrote walking, but think anything rolling, crawling on the ground instead of flying above it.
      • ...and if you go for the community mailbox thing, like some Canadian places, then you could actually just use a truck. The truck has the mailboxes in the side of it, it drives to the right place, parks for a day or two then drives back for refilling.

  • Canada Post mail walkers are working on a contract that expired in 2011. This is just another ploy of the management to get the workers to agree to a 30% slash in wages http://bc.ctvnews.ca/canada-po... [ctvnews.ca]
  • If a person's mailbox is not on their own property, I can easily see littering becoming a big problem, as people will often discard unwanted mail, which would end up becoming a major pain for those living in any private properties that may happen to be conveniently closer to the mailbox than those that are further away, because they surely don't want litter all over their lawns. It's only sometimes barely controlled in multi-unit building mailrooms, where I suspect the only thing keeping people from uncon

    • by jofas ( 1081977 )
      Nah. Littering is not an issue. People do drive to community mailboxes, but it's just like with the pre-existing ones in rural areas: people just stop by on the way home from work. No one makes a special trip. I think a kid drew a penis on our mailbox, but it's gone now.
  • I never understood the need to get, and pay for, door to door mail service 6 days a week. I'd happily keep door to door mail service (mailing a letter from my home to someone across the country for roughly 50 cents is pretty great).

    As less and less comes through the mail, why not keep up the nice service, but make it like the garbage? They work 5-6 days a week, the post office could be open 6 days a week, but they only come to any given house once or twice a week. that way, you could have far less fuel,

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