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Get Your Pizza Delivered Via Drone

October 2016

Don Meij, the CEO of Domino's Pizza, says it doesn't make sense to have a 2-ton vehicle delivering a 4-pound pizza. That's why he intends to deliver pizza using drones beginning later this year — the world's first commercial drone delivery service.

The announcement came after a successful trial in New Zealand. Domino's is also conducting trials in Australia, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Japan, and Germany. Drone deliveries are already legal in Australia, though the drone must stay at least 100 ft. from houses.

It's likely pizza will also be coming to you via drone here in the US. This past June the FAA announced that as of August 29, commercial drone services would be allowed. Certain rules apply, of course. You can't operate commercial drones across state lines, above people, or at night. And they have to stay below 400 ft.

But the kicker is that they have to stay within view of the operator. The whole point is to transport the pizza, not the deliveryman. Domino's is undaunted, and in fact governments are collaborating with companies to see how deliveries can be made without this constraint.

In July Amazon began partnering with the British government to explore the possibility of making drone deliveries that are out of view of the operator. In addition, an operator would be allowed to pilot multiple drones at the same time.

And in early August, the White House gave Alphabet (the parent company of Google) permission to begin testing Project Wings, a service that will include drones going beyond line of sight.

Amazon fully expects to be delivering much of their merchandise via drones in the near future. CEO Jeff Bezos sees it as a matter of survival. The cost of delivering via truck, and the aging, clogged transportation infrastructure, both threaten the viability of the company.

Sailing above that infrastructure is relatively cheap. Approximately 80–90% of Amazon's deliveries weigh less than 5 pounds, light enough for drones. The company will likely begin service in areas with a low population density, such as suburbs.

They're also exploring delivering in cities by putting smart lockers on rooftops, or tiny depots on light poles, and having drones deliver the goods there. The company also has a patent on self-driving trucks that are like mobile warehouses, stocked with items that are frequently ordered in an area. When an order comes in, a drone makes the delivery.

In a sense, the airspace up to 400 ft. is an unused shipping lane, an amazingly valuable resource just waiting to be tapped.

Think of an analogy with WiFi, the wireless service that we all love. Back in the 1980s most of the radio spectrum, like today's roadways, was full of traffic, such as radio, TV, mobile phones, two-way radios, satellite communications, broadband, and radar.

There was one area of the spectrum, however, referred to as "garbage bands," that was relatively unused and that had been allocated by the FCC for local uses such as microwave ovens. In1985 the FCC decided that anyone could use this spectrum without a license.

The result was an explosion of technologies that took advantage of this unused "shipping lane." It's now used by cordless phones, WiFi, and the huge panoply of devices that are part of the "internet of things," such as smart bulbs, thermostats, and sensors.

Just as the opening of this spectrum unleashed creativity and resulted in a major industry, so too will the opening of airspace up to 400 ft. According to the FAA press release announcing the availability of this airspace for commercial drone use, it could "generate more than $82 billion for the U.S. economy and create more than 100,000 new jobs over the next 10 years."

While delivery of consumer goods might be considered frivolous by some, in other cases drone deliveries are a matter of life and death. A company called Zipline has a fleet of drones in Rwanda that delivers pharmaceuticals to rural areas. The deliveries take hours rather than weeks. Similarly, drones are being used to bring medical supplies to remote areas of Madagascar.

Drugs are also being delivered by drone in the UK, but in this case it's against the law: prison officials are increasingly coming across instances where drones are being used to get illegal drugs, mobile phones, and USB drives inside prison walls.

Likely, the lovely little birdies don't consider this airspace unused, but hopefully they'll adapt. And we'll get our pizza fresh out of the oven.

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© 2016 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

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