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When Flying Pizzas and Medicines Drop from the Sky

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, May 08, 2014

When Jeff Bezos announced last year that Amazon was testing drones to speed purchased goods to Amazon customers, lots of people laughed. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wondered whether other alpha moguls would want their own drone fleets to provide their customers with instant gratification, and she worried about the dizzying logistics and hazards of thousands of delivery drones crisscrossing the nation's airspace. Netflix mocked Amazon with a fake ad.

Entrepreneur Andreas Raptopoulos scoffed when Domino's launched two pepperoni pizzas on a publicity-driven drone delivery last summer. "Why the hell would you do that," he asked, when perfectly good ways to deliver pizza already exist? But as a story by Shane Hickey in The Guardian explains, Raptopoulos already had his own vision of drones delivering medical supplies to places that roads don't reach. He founded Matternet, a company devoted to a network of stations for flying drones that could expand beyond medical applications to become the world's next generation transportation system. Matternet has tested drone prototypes for deliveries in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The technology isn't yet ready for long distances and mass development, but Raptopoulos believes safe, reliable drone systems are inevitable.

Bezos, the Amazon CEO, is serious too. Amazon's core business is selling and delivering physical stuff, and a Wired Magazine story by Marcus Wohlsen reports plans for drone delivery are well underway. According to the story, Bezos told shareholders in his annual letter that the Amazon "Prime Air team is already testing our 5th and 6th generation aerial vehicles, and we are in the design phase on generations 7 and 8."

It not as far-fetched as it sounds. An administrative law judge for the National Transportation Traffic Safety Administration ruled the Federal Aviation Administration has no authority to ban the commercial use of unarmed aerial vehicles. Amazon has said it hopes FAA rules for civilian drone flights will be in place sometime in 2015.

What if they crash or smash into things? What if people shoot them down? An Atlantic story by Alexis Madrigal explains why Raptopoulos thinks those are baseless fears and why drones are the transportation of the future.

Drones have been used already for a friendly gesture, with a little advertising thrown in. Singapore is a wealthy country, but it relies on a million immigrant workers from China, India and Bangladesh who get paid as little as $1.60 an hour for manufacturing and construction work. Fast Company reports that to cheer people missing their homes, Coca Cola asked Singaporeans to take photos of signs thanking the immigrants for building their buildings. The photos were wrapped around cans of Coke, and 2,500 cans of cold soda were delivered by drone to construction workers. The ad agency Ogilvy & Mather Singapore filmed workers happily getting their drinks and messages, and you can watch here. Well, that is nice, but don't forget scientists say soft drink consumption is a major contributor to obesity and diabetes, in wealthy and developing countries world wide.

Tags:  buscell  business  complexity matters  innovation 

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