Drones, unmanned aircraft that not too long ago were pure science fiction, are nothing new in 2015. From drones that deliver tacos to drones that capture natural occurrences, the technology has broken into reality quicker than the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) could have ever anticipated — the agency is still scrambling to adequately define the laws of airspace where commercial drones are concerned. Waiting patiently for these regulations so it can capitalize on a huge market opportunity is Amazon, whose Prime Air drones have undergone a makeover.
Announced two years ago, Amazon Prime Air's debut video originally featured a quadcopter capable of delivering packages to customers within 30 minutes. Now that design has changed into more of a helicopter-plane hybrid, keeping the time frame the same. As Amazon's official site cautions, though, "Putting Prime Air into service will take some time, but we will deploy when we have the regulatory support needed to realize our vision." That means although the technology and its capabilities are close to the vision Amazon has for it, the biggest hurdle will be making sure it can be safely deployed.
There's no doubt that getting a package delivered to your doorstep in half an hour is revolutionary, but having drones flying freely through the air not far above us is an uncomfortable idea for many. It's not uncommon to hear about people shooting down drones that seem to be disrupting their privacy, and just like autonomous vehicles, the only way they'll make their way into widespread commercial use is through strict regulation.
What exactly this will look like is still unclear. Drones seem to be a case of technology developing before the world is fully ready to embrace it. Of course, some of the most revolutionary innovations hit us seemingly out of nowhere, but drones aren't iPhones. Whereas the advent of smartphones gave us an incredible product that we could control (mostly) as we pleased, drones represent the arrival of something relatively out of our control.
In no small step, drones and their potential move us closer to a symbiotic relationship between humans and machines. That's not to say the singularity, the point at which artificial intelligence surpasses the capabilities of the human brain, is suddenly upon us. However, the regulations surrounding how drones are allowed to behave in airspace could set a precedent for autonomous machines moving forward. Getting a new pair of shoes in 30 minutes without leaving the house would be pretty sweet, but that luxury can and should wait until there's a full grasp of what allowing it to happen really means.
Cover image: Amazon via YouTube