My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: UPS and FedEx developing their Own Delivery Drones to compete with Amazon PrimeAir

Thursday, December 5, 2013

UPS and FedEx developing their Own Delivery Drones to compete with Amazon PrimeAir

“The commercial use of Drones is an interesting technology and we’ll continue to evaluate it. UPS invests more in technology than any other company in the Delivery business, and we’re always planning for the future”

UPS Company spokesman on UPS plans to develop their own Drones for Delivering Packages

Wow! That didn’t take long. Soon after Amazon made their announcement that they’re doing research into their own fleet of Drones for 30 minute 5 lb Package deliveries as stated in my blog article entitledAmazon plans to launch Amazon PrimeAir, their 30 minute Drone Package Delivery Service for Amazon Prime users - Playing Catch-up as Mailpak launches DealBug in Jamaica”, UPS has come out of their corner swinging.

They too are apparently doing research into their OWN Drone fleet for 30 minute Package Delivery as reported by unnamed sources to The Verge in the article “UPS researching its own Delivery Drones to compete with Amazon's Prime Air”, published December 3, 2013 08:29 am By Ben Popper, The Verge and “HEADS UP, AMAZON! UPS IS ALSO TESTING DRONE DELIVERY”, published December 3, 2013 by Andrew Couts, DigitalTrends.

FedEx founder Fred Smith also has expressed an interest in developing a Drone fleet, with the FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) being the main stumbling block, quote:  “We have all this stuff working in the lab right now, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We need a set of rules from the FAA. It’s just a matter of getting the laws in place so companies can begin building to those specifications and doing some real field testing”.

So that make three (3) bulls in the pen; one Internet Shopping company whose CEO pre-announced his intentions in a bid to boost Cyber Monday Internet traffic to his website and two (2) other that may have a more practical reason to do Drones, that being reducing the cost of Labour involved in Package Delivery.

FedEx and UPS in the Mix – Old Dogs teaching Drones New Tricks

Despite Amazon’s showmanship in a bid to cut out the Package Delivery folks, they’ve got some serious research to do as it relates to safely piloting these things around autonomously. Just like the challenge of Autonomous Vehicles that can safely drive in Traffic being developed by Volvo’s SARTE Project as stated in my blog article entitled “Volvo Testing Autonomous Motor Vehicles in Spain in Live Traffic - EU Project SARTRE adds self-driving AI with smartphone Control the same type of tech will have to be incorporate into these Drones for the purpose of Collision avoidance.

North American CEO for the Drone manufacturer DJI Colin Guinn, pointed out as much, as Drone Tech is basically in its infancy with most Drones being Remote piloted, not Autonomous, quote: “A company like Amazon or UPS could have a safe, operational fleet in 18-24 months. What we need in terms of tech is improved object detection and avoidance, because GPS coordinates alone won’t cut it if you got a car or some kids in the driveway”.

His concerns can be seen just by studying the Amazon PrimeAir Video.

Amazon may be doing this as a bit of showmanship as the technology is far from perfected, hence the FAA's candor. But for UPS and FedEx, it means reduce trans-shipments in-between its various Package Distribution Centers, reducing the cost of ferrying small Packages as that doesn't involved the complex logistics of interacting with people.

Cheaper Package Deliver Logistics - Business and Corporate clients with Personal Delivery Drones

They'd just designate a landing pad for the Packages and the Drones can be as large as the FAA regulations can allow, even designed to carry thousands of pounds of Packages or the equivalent of a UPS Truck by Air autonomously, shaving millions off the cost of Ground Transportation of Packages in terms of Employee Wages and Fuel.

For the Package Delivery guys though, it also means bending their will to suit large Internet and Brick and Mortar Retailers like Amazon and Wal-Mart, who may be interested in the idea of faster Deliveries of Packages via Drones. News of their plans to also make drones as well indicates that they are not only planning to use drones to reduce the cost of trans-shipments in-between its various Package Distribution Centers. 
They are also looking to capitalize and large Business and Corporate clients in the Cities that may also want to have Drone Deliveries within 30 minutes, a developing phenomenon in the Package Delivery Industry I’d like to call Premium Rush Effect!

To quote law professor specializing in Drones and robotics Ryan Calo who sums it up best, quote: “I think from both a tech and a policy perspective, delivering to consumers in residential areas is going to be tough thing to accomplish any time soon. But a company like UPS could use Drones to bring Packages quickly and cheaply from a major airport or city to pick-up centers in more remote locations, speeding up Delivery for a lot of customers”.

Lindsworth Deer’s Idea – Drones for Deliver need a Design Refresh and Customer Control

Worse case scenario is that the Drone is crippled after such an attack. In such a case many options dependent on the severity of the damage as assessed by the Drones onboard AI (Artificially Intelligence) program which has to make all the decisions on its own wi9thoith human intervention. Otherwise these would be remotely piloted Drones and would be no less costly than having Delivery men Premium Rush (2013) the Packages to your doorstep.

Not only that, but the armament on any Drones used for Delivery would have to be improved to make them impervious to persons using shotguns to shoot them down. In the case where shooters target the rotors, the Drones also need to be designed to either increase power to the other rotors to give extra lift and take evasive maneuvers to escape from the predators. This feature is a technology that’s basically military in origin and is an opening for Military contractors to partake in the soon-to-be-expanding Commercial Drone Design Industry. 

If the Drone is damaged to the point that it can’t fly on, the last decision the AI need to make is to release the Package and safely parachute it to the ground. The Drone needs to also deploy its own parachute to make sure it doesn’t fall from the sky and hurt unsuspecting passers-by below.

If it’s still airworthy the Drone’s AI can then make the decision to either fly back to the Fulfillment Center if possible or land at a designated spot and transmit its location back to Amazon’s NOC (Network Operations Center).

My suggestion is elegantly simple as pointed out in my blog article entitledAmazon plans to launch Amazon PrimeAir, their 30 minute Drone Package Delivery Service for Amazon Prime users - Playing Catch-up as Mailpak launches DealBug in Jamaica”; just design the Drones to fly faster and higher as per the FAA’s regulations. That means Amazon has to come up with a whole new design for the Drones, preferably designed to fly like an aeroplane in flight but revert back to Helicopter mode when coming in for a landing.

This would make Transit Faster and Have the Package inside of the Craft instead of being exposed to the elements i.e. Rain and Wind, as can be seen in the Amazon PrimeAir video. Even better too would be a guided landing; the Amazon Prime, UPS or FedEx customer would have an app on their smartphone or Tablet that hands over control of the craft allowing for the person to control the Drone and tell it where to land the Package.

Even better though, is a designated Land Pad at the customer’s premises, no different from the Customer having a Post Office box or a Mailbox for their regular USPS (United States Postal Service) Mail. Amazon Prime, UPS or FedEx customer would be given a special RFID Sticker to place on the spot where they want their Drone Deliveries to be left. The Drone will simply home in on the sticker and guide itself to that spot and leave the Package there when the customer isn’t around to guide the landing.

Drones as personal Servants – Do you want one lump or Two with your Coffee Sir

Drones as personal servants it seems isn’t too far-fetched a proposition as suggested in the article “Is there a Kindle Drone in Amazon's future?”, published December 2, 2013 12:08 PM PST by Dan Farber, CNET News.This development in Packaging to me is just the tip of the iceberg as another Giant also stirred in the Robotics Field: Google.

Google, also famous for working on their own Autonomous Vehicles, is also planning to head into Robotics with former Google Android CEO Andy Rubin spearheading this effort as reported in “Google robots may pose challenge to Amazon drones”, published  4 December 2013 Last updated at 11:37 GMT By Leo Kelion Technology reporter, BBC News

Google’s Robotics Division is actually the cobbleing together of seven recently acquired Robotics companies as explained in “Amazon has drones, but Google's got robots - seven new robotics acquisitions,” in fact, published December 4, 2013 -- 12:24 GMT (04:24 PST), By Liam Tung, ZDNet, all purchased as if buying part to build an Android:

1.         Japan-based Schaft, a maker of humanoids,
2.         Industrial Perception, a maker of robotic 3D vision
3.         Meka, a MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab spinoff
4.         Redword Robotics a maker of humanoid robots and robot arms
5.         Bot & Dolly a maker of Robotic camera system 
6.         Autofuss a Robotics System Design firm
7.         Holomni, a design firm that makes wheels

Knowing Google, it’ll not just be about Vacuum cleaners and House Robots only but possibly they may be eyeing these developments and realizing that there is coming market place for Personal Drones to assist humans in their everyday life.

By the end of 2014, Personal Drones  pioneered by either Google or Amazon may be the next big thing as predicted in my blog article entitledTech Predictions for 2014 - PC killin' Tablets and Wearable Computers, Personal Drones and Autonomous Vehicles Hydrogen Fuelled Cars” coming from the likes of Google and even Apple!

This may eventually have implications for the Revival of the Postal Service here in Jamaica with Courier Services such as Mailpak in Jamaica leading the charge. This is definitely something we can pioneer as the technology is fairly simple as pointed out in my Geezam blog article “Skycam Jamaica Aerial Photography marks possible Revival of Package Delivery in the Jamaica Postal Service”.

After all Americans already inseparable from our smartphones and Tablets; what about a Personal Android Drone that an extension of your Android Smartphone or Tablet? Google can pull it off for sure, making Personal Drones that are Almost Human (2013)!

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