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Why I find it hard to doubt drone delivery will be big business.

By Mark Raskino | April 14, 2015 | 0 Comments

Like many analysts, I have been fascinated by the prospects of aerial drone use in everyday business. My first moment of awakening was seeing the famous UK Dominoes pizzadrone PR experiment video in 2013.  Since that time, whenever I speak with CIOs and business leadership teams of larger companies about it,  I am usually faced by a barrage of problems, complications and reasons why drone use can’t or won’t happen. Each reason is perfectly plausible. Each reason is a brick in a wall of denial. You can’t see though walls and they make you feel safe continuing to do business as usual. Such walls are exactly what enables the kind of disruptive innovation that Clayton Christensen has taught us all about. And yet we still keep on doing it – building walls of denial.

What has been amazing over the last year in particular, is to see how start-ups and entrepreneurs are addressing each and every objection and overcoming them methodically and at lightening speed. It is testament to how rapidly our modern digital economy is building upon itself to accelerate innovation progress. Ideas are shared globally on web videos, money to test ideas is raised on crowd funding sites, components are built on 3D printers, regulation thinking is evolved through social collaboration. These methods combine to rapidly find solutions. For example

“Unmanned, propeller systems landing in back yards are too dangerous” .  Why land at all?  This Russian Pizza copter didn’t. Nor does Google’s delivery drone experiment.

“If they fall on people and property it will cause damage”  Yes – but DJI already has a parachute system to help minimize that. There is no form of transport with zero risk. Risk is relative. Today’s pizza delivery methods sometimes cost lives and big damages .

“People won’t let those things fly over their homes.”   I think that’s probably mostly true. So why not let them just fly mostly over roads?  This new system will register your objection to home overflight. But maybe some people with homes on busy short-cut routes wouldn’t mind being paid. I could imagine that site becoming a toll collecting gateway system one day.

There is no system of registration for these drones – they are anonymous”.  That’s a problem. I have posted a similar thought before. City AM reported yesterday an entrepreneur who started a famous taxi app, is now trying to solve that with a venture called verifly.com.

“The aviation authorities won’t allow it”.  They will be cautious- for sure. But they will be driven to act quickly by politicians if national economic advantage is at stake. Already countries are vying with each other to liberalize quickly. That’s one reason why Amazon’s drone delivery test facility is in Canada.

There are many other objections. Short range and limited battery life. Precision location finding. Performance in bad weather. Price performance and energy consumption per KG for package delivery – relative to existing modes. Noise. But it seems to me all are addressable to some extent. To anyone who fears drones falling on their heads, I say – stand in London or New York and look up. Why are you not afraid of that enormous jet plane?  Urban culture can shift just as it did to accept planes, cars and driverless rail transit systems.

What will be the first ‘killer app’ category for drone delivery?  I’m not sure it will be pizza. It could be anything. Spare keys to locked out people, emergency blood packs to accident scenes, urgent car parts or maybe flowers…  who knows?  All these examples are being experimented, usually by smaller nimbler businesses that just know how to say “what if…” and try, rather that sit around a big meeting table and think of all the reasons it can’t be done.

Here’s my bottom line. If Ford can believe some autonomous cars will appear on roads within 5 years, it’s hard to imagine why aerial drones won’t find at least a significant niche in delivery services. It is harder still to imagine how anyone can be sure enough to bet against that future. Sure, it will take a few years to perfect. But by then you might not have the capabilities, licences and business relationships to be able to catch up.

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