Drone Tracks Aims to Make $1 Drone Shipping a Reality, but Are There Hidden Costs?
BY Zacc Dukowitz18 October 2018
Drone deliveries are back in the news, this time with a plan from Statupstaging Inc. to use a hooked mechanism to reduce costs and increase safety. However, our research suggests this plan is riddled with hidden costs and lacks public support.
Startupstaging Inc. recently announced their plans to roll out $1 drone deliveries using what they call “Drone Tracks”—a system of tracks that run along pre-set routes, which drones would be attached to during flight.
Here’s a depiction of the idea in action, taken from the Drone Tracks website:
Some proposed benefits for the idea of attaching drones to tracks were listed in a recent statement issued by Startupstaging Inc.:
- Customer-scheduled delivery with active tracking: you know where your package is and when it will arrive.
- Eco-friendly: Less cardboard and fewer vehicles on the road with the use of reusable boxes
- Mail delivery with drones would eliminate the USPS budget deficit.
- Airplanes don’t need to worry about drones crashing into them during landing/take-off.
The system creates consistent and predictable flight paths allowing for safer and easier organization, much like roads for cars.
– Startupstaging Inc.
In the same statement, Startupstaging Inc. also lists a few other surveillance-related benefits as a secondary positive to using the approach of attaching drones to tracks. These ideas have to do with catching criminals or potential terrorists by using footage from an “eye in the sky.”
However, these benefits frankly seem somewhat naive—we already have video surveillance throughout urban areas, and it’s hard to imagine the Drone Tracks idea being implemented anywhere except urban areas. Further, while a higher vantage point might reveal more useful data, drones are already being used for this kind of surveillance, and there doesn’t seem to be a need to attach them to tracks to gather it.
Are There Hidden Costs to the Drone Tracks Idea?
The immediate concern one has when considering the Drone Tracks idea is the infrastructure cost. That is, in order to implement this kind of drone delivery approach, tracks would first have to be built throughout the area where deliveries are to be made.
And it looks like Startupstaging Inc. is hoping not to foot that bill—in doing research for this article, we came across a petition created earlier this month on MoveOn.org asking for “…legislation to launch the implementation of Drone Tracks, which can result in safer drone flights and cheaper delivery.”
So far there’s only one signer, and that signer is also the author of the petition: Startupstaging Inc.
The Idea of $1 Drone Delivery Isn’t a New Thing
There’s probably a good reason Startupstaging Inc. is proposing shipping with drones at just $1 per delivery.
Amazon, through their drone delivery Amazon Prime Air, first made the claim that they’d be able to conduct drone deliveries for just $1 so long as the package being delivered met these two criteria:
- Packages must weigh fewer than five pounds.
- The delivery distance must be within ten miles of Amazon’s facilities.
Amazon made this announcement almost three years ago, in December of 2015.
Fast forward to today, and we are much farther along when it comes to making drone deliveries a reality.
In Iceland, Tanzania, Switzerland, and elsewhere drone deliveries are now a part of everyday life. But in each place where drone deliveries have been implemented, a huge, complex infrastructure has been created to enable the deliveries.
This infrastructure isn’t a system of physical tracks, such as those proposed by Startupstaging Inc., but rather it’s a system of shared data, generally called a UTM (Unmanned Traffic Management). To be fair to Startupstaging Inc., the creation of these UTMs have been supported in many instances by government funding, and it’s unlikely that private industries could pay to create all of the infrastructure needed to get drone deliveries up and running.
Right now NASA is working in partnership with the FAA to further UTM technology here in the U.S. In addition, there are currently pilot programs in place in the U.S. exploring drone delivery (among other things).
So while it does seem likely that we’ll see inexpensive drone deliveries arrive here before too long, it seems a little far-fetched to imagine that tracks will be built to implement these deliveries in every city in the U.S.
It could be that some cities will build tracks for specific drone delivery routes—it’s certainly not implausible—but we’d bet that UTM will be the real way forward when it comes to creating an infrastructure to enable drone deliveries here in the U.S., just as it has been elsewhere in the world.
Where do you think drone deliveries are headed? Chime in on this thread in the UAV Coach community forum to share your thoughts.