Both Alphabet and Amazon have committed to developing autonomous drones that can deliver packages with minimal human oversight. As part of a White House initiative aimed at bolstering the drone industry, Alphabet’s Project Wing has announced that it will begin testing its delivery drones, or UAVs, at one of the six FAA-approved test sites here in the US.
Development of a next generation air traffic control system is critical to enabling the kind of large scale drone fleets over crowded urban areas that Amazon and Alphabet want to build. And in the long run, the operator of those networks may reap as much financial benefit from managing that infrastructure — a cloud of connected devices in the sky — as it does from acting as the merchant or delivery company.
Despite the ongoing advances in computer vision and artificial intelligence, and the growing support for the drone industry from both private industry and public policy, it’s unlikely that delivery drones will become a reality in major cities anytime in the next year or two. In more rural areas, however, the delivery of critical services and supplies, for example blood and medicine, will soon be a reality, with operations announced this morning in Washington, Nevada, and Maryland.