I was recently asked by a client what I thought the impact of drones would be to business. I was aware of some testing done by Amazon and some other media hype at the beginning of the year but what I hadn’t realized is how sophisticated this area had become recently. In the past week six Hollywood companies received permission to fly camera drones as part of future productions. Meanwhile in Europe this week, DHL were first to use a drone to deliver a medical package to the car-free island of Juist in Germany.
Here is an article we found from earlier this year giving a good oversight to just how serious companies are about using drones as part of their delivery strategies:
Published: 28 April 2014 Updated: 09:24, 28 April 2014
London Evening Standard
Google’s recent announcement that it has bought a company called Titan Aerospace means that the internet’s three biggest giants are all now “in” drones. Facebook, which considered buying Titan itself, has purchased a Somerset drone-maker called Ascenta, and Amazon is already fiddling around with the eighth generation of its Prime Air drone, promising that it will be delivering packages by 2015.
All of which means that the future of retail and technology — and perhaps much else — is nothing less than a Game of Drones. If you’re a major multinational corporation, army or key emergency services provider and you haven’t either invested in a drone manufacturer or at least trialled the things, you’re in danger of looking hopelessly out of step.
The emergent drone race worries privacy campaigners, but it raises the prospect of densely populated, high-tech capitals like ours resembling the street scenes in Minority Report before long. “The potential for the technology is enormous, in lots of different areas,” says Peter Lee of law firm Taylor Vinters LLP, who is one of Europe’s leading drone lawyers.
Properly referred to as unmanned aircraft or UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), drones range upwards from 3kg devices to ones that are about the size of a small plane. Those heavier than 20kg are banned outside one large area in west Wales and another over Boscombe Down military base. Those under that weight can be flown privately as long as they stay within line of sight (500m horizontally and 122m high) and don’t come within 150m of large assemblies of people, or 50m of a single person or building.
Anyone who wants to use drones commercially in London has to apply for permission from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which has granted hundreds of permission to date. Nationally, those certified to use them include the BBC, the National Grid and several universities, as well as specialist photographic companies.
Here’s how drones could run London.
Many suspected that Amazon’s promise last year to deliver packages by drone was a publicity stunt, but this month the company has reassured the doubters, telling its customers “it looks like science fiction but it’s real”. Referring to restrictive US rules on drone flights, the company says it will be “ready to enter commercial operations as soon as the necessary regulations are in place”, pointing to 2015 as the likely date.
The initial plan is to deliver packages to customers 10 miles from its US fulfilment centres, and chief executive Jeff Bezos says the eighth generation of Amazon’s drone is currently being designed. The idea is to offer customers a “30-minute delivery” option so they can wait for any product weighing less than 5lb (the vast majority of Amazon products sold) to arrive by air at home or work.
Peter Lee thinks it will be a while before drones can deliver products in London, though. “Amazon would have to get certain exceptions from the CAA, and that would probably be a step too far at the moment,” he says. “But I can certainly see this kind of thing happening in the not too distant future.”
After American entrepreneur Amit Gupta shot a video from his drone of himself and his friends walking on Bernal Hill in San Francisco, BuzzFeed declared that “dronies” are “now a thing”. This follows the Telegraph Media Group’s editor-in-chief Jason Seiken promising that footage taken from drones will be central to the company’s future reporting.
Should the Standard be filling the capital’s airspace to bring you the latest news? Some photographic companies already use drones regularly in London. One of them, Skyvantage, shot the first drone images of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew and charges from £1,295 for a shoot. Extreme Facilities Ltd, based in Clapham, has three drones and works regularly with the BBC — it took the spectacular aerial shots for the Top Gear episode that saw £200 million worth of historic British cars parading down The Mall last year. “That area of central London is one of the most restricted bits of airspace in the country, for obvious security reasons,” a company representative told the Standard. “We were allowed to fly down to the Victoria monument, but no further.”
Companies operating drones in London have to take out £5 million public liability insurance before they can take to the air.
After the police on Merseyside bought — and soon crashed — a £13,000 drone some years ago, it is difficult to tell whether UAVs have a future in the emergency services. There have been suggestions that fire services could use drones to assess incidents much faster than fire engines could arrive, but after consulting its special operations group, a spokesman for the London Fire Brigade told the Standard it has “no plans right now” to use drones.
A spokesman for the Met said: “We can neither confirm nor deny whether we are using them. We won’t discuss whether we will use them in the future.”
If you were crossing Tower Bridge on the evening of the 23rd of last month you might have seen a spectacular example of another use that drones will increasingly be put to in London: advertising. To simultaneously promote Earth Hour and Star Trek Into Darkness, 30 LED-carrying quadcopter drones flew over the bridge, making up a 94m-high Starfleet emblem. Expect more such stunts before long.
Will your future meals arrive on a buzzing tray? YO! Sushi showed off a four-propeller flying waiter recently, controlled by a human waiter with an iPad and moving at 25mph. The restaurant claims it was a one-off, and experts say drones would only make sense in very big — possibly outdoor — restaurants.
A video released by pizza chain Domino’s last summer appeared to show a pizza being delivered by drone, but a spokesman wouldn’t say whether the company is serious about the idea: “Domino’s is an innovative company that is constantly looking at ways to deliver pizzas as quickly as possible. It would be great to think that one day pizzas could fly!”