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Retail Drones: The Future of Delivery?

Staff Illustrator Gwen '16
Graphic by Gwen ’16

Since Dec. 1, 2013, when Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced his company’s plans to use drones as a way to deliver packages weighing less than five pounds, Google and UPS have followed suit, announcing the development of similar drone package delivery programs. Facebook has also begun looking into drone technology to spread the reach of the Internet.

Amazon’s drone delivery system, called Prime Air, is scheduled to start by 2018. The Federal Aviation Administration must first codify the privacy and safety regulations necessary for commercial drones.

According to New York Daily News, only 14% of all Amazon packages weigh more than five pounds. Prime Air will deliver packages within a ten mile radius from one of Amazon’s 96 fulfillment centers.

UPS, which is currently one of the world’s largest parcel-delivery services, has also been testing drones as a method of delivery. The company plans to use drones not for personal home deliveries but rather for transporting goods between urban UPS stations to more remote pick-up locations. Google is currently creating drones through Google X, the department responsible for innovations such as Google Glass.

While Amazon, Google, and UPS all plan to utilize delivery drones as an extension of their current modes of business, Facebook will focus on using drones to provide Internet access to the two-thirds of the world currently without it, as part of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg’s internet.org project, which seeks to make the Internet globally accessible. Facebook is in the process of acquiring two companies that specialize in solar-powered drone technology, Titan Aerospace and Ascenta. According to wired.com, Facebook plans to use these drones as “high-altitude wireless hotspots.”

Facebook’s potential use of drones would expand the company’s global reach and connect a currently under-served population to an ever-growing global economy and digital culture.

Not everyone is sold on the idea of commercial drones, however. Significant privacy concerns have been raised over the video surveillance capabilities of the commercial drones currently in development.