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Businesses Transportation United States

Coming Soon to a Front Porch Near You: Package Delivery Via Drone (wsj.com) 110

After lagging behind other countries for years, commercial drones in the U.S. are expected to begin limited package deliveries within months, according to federal regulators and industry officials. [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; an alternative source was not immediately available] From a report: The momentum partly stems from stepped-up White House pressure, prompting closer cooperation between the government and companies such as Amazon.com seeking authorizations for such fledgling businesses. The upshot, according to these officials, is newfound confidence by both sides that domestic package-delivery services finally appear on the verge of taking off. Earlier promises of progress turned out to be premature. The green light could be delayed again if proponents can't overcome nagging security concerns on the part of local or national law-enforcement agencies. Proposed projects also may end up stymied if Federal Aviation Administration managers don't find creative ways around legislative and regulatory restrictions such as those mandating pilot training for manned aircraft. But some proponents of delivery and other drone applications "think they might be ready to operate this summer," Jay Merkle, a senior FAA air-traffic control official, said during a break at an unmanned-aircraft conference in Baltimore last week that highlighted the agency's pro-business approach.
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Coming Soon to a Front Porch Near You: Package Delivery Via Drone

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  • Half mile away, but not under takeoff or landing paths. Wonder if I'll ever get drone delivery?
  • The other day UPS dropped off a large package. No doorbell, no knock, we just found it lying on the driveway outside. It would have been ruined if we had noticed it there an hour later. I certainly hope they don't start dropping packages on lawns and expect people to deal with it.
    • by djinn6 ( 1868030 )
      There's no reason for a drone to land on your front porch when there's an entire backyard it could drop your packages in. There's also nothing stopping the drone from automatically notifying you that a package has arrived, whether it is through email or a phone notification. It could also give you real-time tracking so you know when it's heading your way.
      • My doxies would no doubt love drone package drop offs. I have no doubt they would quickly learn to associate the drone’s sound as a prelude to dropping off yet another toy to tear apart; as well as another opportunity to attack and destroy the interloper on their turf. They probably would quickly team with my shepherd mis in a “You use your height to grab it and through it to the ground, we’ll take over from there...”
      • There's no reason for a drone to land on your front porch when there's an entire backyard it could drop your packages in.

        That's good, I'd forgotten that it never rains in my back yard even when it is raining out front.

    • by balbeir ( 557475 )
      It's getting there though. We had an aspirational basketball player working at UPS.

      Dropped a package in the basketball ring on our driveway, Question is: from how far did he throw it ?

  • by crgrace ( 220738 ) on Monday March 12, 2018 @02:35PM (#56248123)

    Where I live there are constant problems with people stealing packages from porches and front doors. Seems to me drone delivery would make things even worse because they wouldn't have any way to fight this. In my building, the drivers have our garage code so they can put packages securely in the garage. Seems like this wouldn't be possible with drones.

    How is Amazon addressing this?

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by b0s0z0ku ( 752509 )

      Many issues with drones, which are basically small helicopters...
      (1) Noise, noise, noise. Do we want to have hundreds of loud little helicopters flying around?
      (2) Helicopters aren't exactly stable on the best of days. Lose power, it falls out of the sky. Catch the wrong kind of wind gust, same. See also, helicopter crash in NYC's East River yesterday. And yes, an 20 pound object falling from 50 feet can do damage or even kill.
      (3) Energy. It takes power to beat the air into submission.

      Surface delive

      • by Hadlock ( 143607 )

        1) Drones are virtually silent at 20 ft, they often live at 30-40' above ground level
        2) Drones have a pretty high surface area to volume ratio, with three engines have some manueverability/crash avoidance on descent
        3) This is a solved problem with modern technology, up to and including human size payloads.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      On the other hand delivery by drone could be done to rooftops for apartment buildings or back yards for homes, both of which are more secure.

      • My problem with it was more the exposure to the weather than the security. Are they going to fly it under an overhang and leave it there, or will it be somewhere out in the vertically open?
    • by ljw1004 ( 764174 )

      Where I live there are constant problems with people stealing packages from porches and front doors. Seems to me drone delivery would make things even worse because they wouldn't have any way to fight this. In my building, the drivers have our garage code so they can put packages securely in the garage. Seems like this wouldn't be possible with drones. How is Amazon addressing this?

      My guess: with an option that you select, at checkout, labelled "I want drone delivery".

    • Your drivers with a garage code is not common, in my experience. For those of us getting by without that sort of service, I think theft is easier addressed by a drone than by a human in a truck.

      First, they could possibly do it by delivering when you are home. A guy in a truck doesn't have the scheduling flexibility that a drone has. Set up an app with a window for delivery, and get a notification when the drone is on its way, tracking map, all that jazz.

      A second option is that they could drop packages where

    • Seems to me drone delivery would make things even worse

      I think things would be a bit better with the drones:
      1. It can deliver to the back of your house, making people driving by unlikely to see your package in the first place. People would need to check backyards, making them more likely to get caught.
      2. People can't simply follow the big brown truck around, as the drone will be difficult to follow from the ground. You'd need to be lucky enough to spot one landing nearby.

  • I'm pretty sure my dogs are 100% in favor of drone delivery. Over the past several years, I've found dead squirrels, dead possums... even a dead nutria in my yard, thanks to my dogs. I guess dead drones are next. I might need to get the dogs some chainmail gauntlets, though, depending on the size of the drones.

    On a side (and more serious) note - if Amazon starts doing this, and doesn't let you opt out (the same way you cannot opt out of their crappy Amazon-branded delivery right now)... I'll likely be bring

    • It sounds to me like you need to have more control over your dogs. If they attack animals they're also likely to bite a deliveryman. You are the reason for drones. And yes I know, every dog owner thinks their pets are little angels.
      • No, my dogs are restricted to a fenced section of the front yard, which also encompasses the front door. Outside the fence, immediately beside the gate, is a sign "please deliver packages to back door" - UPS and FedEx have had no trouble with this for the past 20 years, only Amazon's indentured servants have demonstrated trouble reading.

        However drones would likely have trouble navigating to my back door, and would probably be directed to the front door inside the fenced yard.

        But really, this is all about sa

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Like the many drone deliveries Obama ordered in Pakistan, Syria, etc.

  • I know of only one country using drones in a few provinces, China, since 2015.

    Other countries are testing and have trials...but it's not a mainstream thing anywhere.

  • I am against "Drone Delivery" for one fundamental reason: Gravity. If a delivery truck has a mechanical failure, it's just dead on the road No harm done to the cargo. Gravity does not ensue upon my package. If a delivery drone has a mechanical failure, down it goes, and so does my package.

    If a delivery truck takes a hit, it'd have to be a pretty seriously heavy hit to damage my package. If a delivery drone takes a hit... All aircraft are designed first and foremost to optimize weight, because it has to wo
    • Package? Who cares about the package? Think of a pedestrian's head or a the windshield of a vehicle. Even a 20 pound package can be lethal if dropped from a height.
    • If a delivery drone has a mechanical failure ...

      These drones use brushless DC motors, which are extremely reliable, without gearing. The only mechanical part that can fail is the bearing. Software bugs, obstacle collisions, and weather are all far bigger worries than mechanics.

      Human driven vehicles kill 30,000 Americans every year, and injure hundreds of thousands more. If package delivering drones can't improve on that, they shouldn't be legal.

      Regulation should be based on data, not fear-mongering.

      • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

        Dude, you want to wait until deliveries drones have killed thousands of people before saying, wait up, how about some standards. What can the drones miss, what can they see, will drones avoid birds, what can they record, can drones avoid other drones, will drones travel across private property to reach the delivery point and what altitude above that property will be required, at least 50m, maximum package weight and size, maximum drone weight, shrouded or exposed blades, safe weather conditions, can drones

    • . If a delivery truck has a mechanical failure, it's just dead on the road No harm done to the cargo.

      Insurance?

  • I can imagine the more criminally inclined shooting down drones with an EMP gun as that would cripple it and disable any recording / tracking device as well. Count be exciting being a drone delivery driver. I also suspect that sooner or later a mid-air collision could happen. Otherwise I suppose it's an okay idea, not sure how practical it is thou, drones are pretty limited by battery range. Maybe for the you want it NOW folks?

    • Avoiding collisions is relatively easy if all delivery drones follow specific height ranges for west-to-east travels, east-to-west, south-to-north and north-to-south.

      But we all know Amazon, UPS, DHL, USPS and others will NOT be cooperating like that, so yeah, expect mid-air collisions.

  • If drone tech gets to this point, why have letter carriers hoofing a beat when drones could do those deliveries? Another thing that comes to mind in an era of drones and self-driving cars: why does San Francisco's BART need human operators any more? BART and other subway systems are an even more controlled and predictable environment than open roads or skies, so we ought to be automating those already.
    • My building has the mailboxes inside the building's front door. Someone needs to sort the letters and packages, and take anything too big to fit to the super's office for pickup. I guess the super or a building employee can do it, but it still requires human work. Trains need a human operator, if only to look ahead and press a Big Red Button(tm) if anything out of the ordinary happens (computer fails to brake for a station, person on the tracks, cat on the tracks, level crossing gates not closed, etc).
      • Drones aren't for cities.

        And trains can be 100% automated with no big red button - examples abound, but I'll pick on Singapore to give you something to Google. Then Google NYC subway accidents and look at how many are caused by human error. NYC subways have a driver as well as a conductor to close the doors... for "safety", but really for unions. I'd rather have automated trains with a real cop walking up and down the train if the concern is "safety". And hey, still union. Win-win.

        • I'd rather have automated trains with a safety spotter on the business end.
          • OK, but that's an emotional reaction.

            • Nope -- humans can THINK and spot dangers that a computer was not programmed to notice. Ideal situation is a combination of computer and human.
              • They can also overthink (or underthink) a situation and thwart the computer's superior reaction time and carefully planned fault tree. A train cannot stop suddenly enough to avoid a person or obstacle on the track anyway. Any system capable of warning the human operator in enough time to do something about it can just as easily stop the automated train. The sole major incident experienced in Singapore was when people overrode the software protection on a broken-down train.

                • No, it can't, but it can slow down significantly. Danger in a collision (kinetic energy) rises as the square of speed. A reduction from 60 mph to 40 mph would reduce the energy of the crash by 50%. As well as giving whatever is on the tracks more time to move off.
                  • I think that if we had trains that were fully automatic, you'd need to justify the expense of a watcher (who, let's face it will just play on their phone) versus spending that considerable amount of money on something else which improves safety even more.

    • BART has been automated from the very beginning. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

  • aircraft, and thunder. No also what about people w/ PTSD, neighboring day sleepers etc. Where will they banned? not if.

  • I think this is an incredibly dumb idea, but it also seems possible I'll be proven wrong at some point. I don't see this as being efficient or reliable or safe or cost effective.
    • There probably is a sweet spot where this actually works. Something like suburban delivery routes near a distribution point. And that distribution point could be a truck. The truck could even move so that the landing spot is different than the takeoff spot... it could really be efficient with the driver (if we're still doing manual driving) just setting up the next boxes on the landing pads and then moving to the next rendezvous point.

      Get too rural or too urban and it no longer makes sense.

  • Again? It was coming last year too, and the year before that. You aren't going to see drones delivering packages. So stupid.
  • Unless it hovers there keeping the thieves away, not interested.

  • 95% of all the posts I see here pointing out issues with drone delivery seem to be thinking of typical city deliveries like most have today. I would think the first years of this type of delivery will be for special cases. There is possibly a pretty good size rural market in hard to deliver areas that would sign up for weekly or monthly supply deliveries right away cause they pay a ton right now for that kind of service. Think up in the mountains in areas costly to deliver to only one house on many acres.

    • There is possibly a pretty good size rural market in hard to deliver areas that would sign up for weekly or monthly supply deliveries right away cause they pay a ton right now for that kind of service. Think up in the mountains in areas costly to deliver to only one house on many acres.

      I don't really see the use case for drones there either: they don't have the flight time/speed combo for that kind of use case. They work best in dense urban areas except that finding landing sites is really hard.

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