So… what good is a drone?
A while back, drones made headlines – as non-piloted aircraft that targeted unwary people and pommelled them with bombs. In other words, the public was introduced to “drones” as a weapon. Can drones do this? Yes, clearly they can. But what your average Jane or Joe didn’t know was that they can do so much more: things that vastly help out all of humanity, rather than take away lives.
So what is a drone? Drones are a simple form of aircraft that lift off and navigate using propellers – usually four – mounted to a small central frame. Unlike most forms of aircraft, they are small and light enough that they don’t need a runway to build up speed for a liftoff. They can take off from anywhere. Also, they don’t need a pilot on board to fly them. Drones are operated remotely, either by humans with distant controls, or by AI.
If the advantages of such systems aren’t immediately obvious, let’s go over them! Take a complex system of transporting goods, like the postal service. In the post, every parcel has a goal (a destination). Rather than drive/ship/fly everything to its destination (because that wouldn’t be efficient at all!) every package is brought into regional centres, which sort them by destination. Then, packages with nearby destinations are sent together to another regional hub. From which they are sorted again and sent to their particular addresses.
Which, at the end of it all, is a lot of extra sorting and handling! Hence, enter the drone. What drones offer is a way – at least for local deliveries – to completely cut out that middle stage. Rather than drive every parcel to some regional centre, only to sort them and send some of them back to the same neighbourhood, drones can instantly calculate how far it is, and whether it’s even worthwhile to bring it to the centre at all. If it isn’t, the drone can carry it straight to the destination. If it’s far enough that it’s still worth putting it on a ship or a train, the drone can carry it to the regional hub – reducing traffic on the road.
And this isn’t sci-fi! Huge companies, like Amazon, are already investing a lot of money into doing this.1 And Amazon’s drone delivery fleet is set to launch soon! Thanks to advances in AI and machine learning, delivery drones can detect obstacles and avoid them. The world of the postman may well be coming to an end, to make way for the post-drone!
In short, drones are far more than weapons or aerial cameras to spy on your neighbours. They have a huge future that – coupled with AI – is just about ready to burst out onto the scene!