When Jeff Bezos announced last year that Amazon was going to introduce “Prime Air,” a drone delivery service, he was roundly mocked and Amazon quickly backed off the claim. But, in fact, the barriers to drone delivery are mostly regulatory, not technological. Australia has already legalized commercial drone flights, paving the way for Flirtey—the start-up profiled in the video below.
Flirtey has teamed up with a text-book rental service (which itself challenged a dominant paradigm–that students buy textbooks) to deliver study materials. Some features:
- Their service costs less than standard postage
- Delivery can be directed to the use’s smartphone rather than a fixed address
- Collision avoidance technology
- A delivery system that involves hovering above the recipient and lowering the package down (as well as dropping the parcel if someone pulls on it)
In addition to giving us a glimpse of a future in which drone delivery may be just another feature of our landscape, this story demonstrates a number of features relevant to forecasting:
- as with the internet, another once-esoteric technology that is now integral to our lives, drones were nutured by military funding and university research. Keep an eye on DARPA for glimpses of outre tech than may go mainstream.
- these technologies are going mainstream more quickly than ever, due to an economy and a culture that encourages entrepreneurs and start-ups like Flirtey.
- innovation depends on a regulatory environment that allows it to flourish. The US isn’t scheduled to license commercial UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) until 2015, and it may take longer than that. What do we lose, economically and intellectually, by lagging behind other countries?
- technologies like drones (or sharing economy services like Lyft or AirbNb) are disruptive in large part because the bypass existing power structures. If drone delivery takes off (sorry, couldn’t resist that), what existing businesses will be undermined?