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Heathrow crash makes ecommerce delivery drones even more pie in the sky

By Dan Wilson April 18, 2016 - 12:20 am

When Amazon announced that they were exploring the possibility of delivering goods using unmanned airborne drones a year or so ago, it had all the hallmarks of a joke. But it soon became clear that delivery drones were genuinely under consideration, to the extent that Amazon has subsequently opened a lab in Cambridge to develop the concept.

And Jeremy Clarkson has also been drafted in to sell the idea. The drones that Amazon are developing would carry 2kg loads for up to 15 miles from an Amazon warehouse. No word was offered on how they were thinking about delivering to customers without a garden area that would serve as a landing place though. (I certainly don’t have a lawn that would serve as such and I bet lots of people in urban areas would say the same.)

But on Sunday, it seems that the drone idea hit what could well be a significant obstacle when one struck a plane near Heathrow. Noone was hurt and the plane was undamaged but it doesn’t bode well.

Clarkson is persuasive about what a drone delivery might look like in a perfect world. But he doesn’t mention the regulatory problems that exist in the UK and the US. Alibaba too is testing drones and there are similar concerns in China. Whether national and international aviation authorities will be willing to relax the existing rules regarding drones remains to be seen.

So is it actually a goer? It seems hard to see that it can ever be profitable and sustainable. And if you consider the possible future, if Amazon and the like have their way, then what you have is an urban airspace buzzing with drones as they head out to make (mostly small) deliveries. It might well be convenient. But it sounds like a sic-fi dystopia waiting to happen.

What do you reckon?

  • keith
    1 year ago

    It’ll be like Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’, Oh the horror. They’ll all be crashing into each other, we’ll have to walk round with umbrellas. A new national sport of ‘down the drone’ will be born. As someone once said in Futurama – ‘Welcome to the Woooorrlldd of tomorrow’.

  • 1 year ago

    Making use of drones to deliver the products to the customers is a good idea. But the place the drone is going to deliver has to be a perfect place to land and the weight of the product has to be considered too.

    Merryl from Ecbilla Ecommerce portal

  • 1 year ago

    Many years ago I worked for Rolls-Royce in Derby. I have stood near a testbed while a Jet Engine was on test. It is very impressive and noisy.

    When drones were first being discussed I tried to imagine one of them hitting an aircraft at such as Heathrow. It was not a pleasant thought. Bird strike is bad enough but a drone contains metal and plastic and in the larger ones fuel. The thought about one of them being ingested into a jet engine is just too horrible to think about. This especially true when you consider the many 2 engine passenger jets flying today.

    On take off b uh engines are working very hard. If one blows up because a drone has been sucked into the engine there is a totally unnecessary emergency situation. With Heathrow so closely located with housing areas right up to its boundaries the scene is set for a major disaster.

    The authorities seem not to be that interested although the first time a loaded passenger jet comes down on a housing area or even worse a crowded Shopping Mall or Sports Stadium and the cause is a drone they will sit up and announce all sorts of controls. But by then it will be far too late. Hundreds will be dead.

    Drones should have to be licenced and ownership should require proper training and testing of possible operators right down to the childs toy size of drone. Laws should be in place to ban any operation of them anywhere near an Airport or Flight Path with significant fines for those stupid enough to think that it is a game.

    We must make our skies safe and that means control or banning of drones…NOW.

    • Tony C
      1 year ago

      There are indeed laws in place banning operation near airfields. See my other comment below.

  • Paul
    1 year ago

    I may well prove to be wrong but there are just far too many variables for this to work. Surely the insurance costs alone make this infeasible? Imagine the lawsuit and subsequent payout when one of these malfunctions, falls out of the sky and seriously injures or kills somebody. I just don’t see it happening, and Amazon’s investment and continued development of this doesn’t make any sense.

    • tinker
      1 year ago

      nearly as stupid as tens of thousands 38 ton lumps of steel full of all manner of goods, roaring up and down the country at 60mph

    • Paul
      1 year ago

      Yes, which is why I would never write drone deliveries off completely. It’s difficult to envisage how future technology can be implemented and change our lives, and it will probably work in a way none of us ever expected. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t mountains to climb before/if this becomes a reality though.

  • james
    1 year ago

    woah paranoia central.

    has anyone tested a drone going into a jet engine?
    – you better believe they have!

    the fact that i havent seen this video being shared around the internet and on BBC news at 6, is because the jet engine probably spat it out the back in tiny pieces without so much as a hiccup.
    – they quite often spit out full grown men without so much as a second though, let alone a breakdown.
    – if the engine exploded, we’d all have seen the video before now.

    even if it were a particularly volatile drone (they’re not made to be volatile, quite the opposite), then the engine may -fail-, very unlikely to explode.
    – one engine failing isnt a huge deal to a modern plane.

    drones arent capable of flying near proper planes under normal circumstance. if you’re flying it RIGHT NEXT TO AN AIRPORT, then you’re the kind of plank that should be put in a padded cell and denied cutlery.

  • james
    1 year ago

    oh and for your lack of garden Chris, are there no open green spaces within walking distance at all?

    nobody said it had to be your own garden, when your delivery is due, take your fold-out landing pad and GPS enabled phone over to the swingpark and lay it out. the drone comes to you.

  • Tony C
    1 year ago

    Laws are already in place banning drone operations near airfields. Also there are (practically unenforceable) laws governing keeping the drone in sight, whether or not the ‘pilot’ is using a first-person view (FPV) camera, and also there are other rules governing maximum heights you can fly depending on the weight of the drone. For Amazon to deliver 15 miles from base, you’d have to have a car near the drone all the time in which the controller sits, in order to keep the drone in sight. This would of course defeat the object. Until better distant remote control systems are in place, while still remaining legal, this idea is indeed pie in the sky.

    The BBC report about this incident does have some useful links near the bottom of the article; I recommend the one about the B737 near-miss at 4,000ft near Stansted. This one contains many of the rules I was talking about above.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-36067591

    And yes I am a Pilot. It’s what I spend my eBay profits on ;)

  • TINKER
    1 year ago

    whos sky is it?
    this is drone racism lol