Some e-commerce companies had their futuristic hopes slighted a bit last week following a FAA ruling on commercial drone use. Drone technology holds promise for revolutionizing the way e-commerce companies reach their customers. Automated drones could cut down on delivery times, provide direct access to remote locations and make receiving a delivery more exciting.
These exhilarating prospects met with the reality that any drone activity must be heavily regulated to prevent abuses or problems down the road. Congress and the FAA committees are hesitant to make any broad leaps towards the rapid commercialization of drone technologies. As a result, any drone-enabled programs in the planning (or even dreaming) stage should take a back burner to improving on existing logistics and shipping practices.
Drone Technology: A Brief Primer
A “drone” does not define any one device. The title can refer to any number of robotic or mechanical devices.
Popularly, a drone means a robotic device capable of being operated either by remote or through an automated AI program. Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) drones have been used in military activities since 2000. They can perform surveillance and combat functions without putting soldiers directly at risk.
The commercial version of the drone that has generated the most interest is a “quad copter” model that uses four spinning propellers to lift and maneuver agilely through the air. Coupled with GPS and flight path mapping technology, these devices could be automated to leave a shipping warehouse and fly directly to a customer.
What the FAA Ruling Means
E-commerce sites like Amazon that had their sights on developing drones for use in delivery have caught a substantial snag. Recently, the FAA ruled that commercial drones could only be operated under the following circumstances:
- The drone is in the direct sight of the operator
- The drone can fly no higher than 500 feet or faster than 100 mph
- Drone operators must be at least 17 years old and approved by the TSA
Since Amazon’s ambition was to have completely automated deliveries, requiring someone to keep the drone in sight makes this intended use impossible. Based on the ruling, the possible uses of drones include aerial photography for inspections or surveillance purposes.
Paul Meisner of Amazon expressed bitter disappointment, saying, “The FAA needs to begin and expeditiously complete the formal process to address the needs of our business, and ultimately our customers.”
How E-Commerce Businesses Can Begin Adapting Now
For most e-commerce sites, the best option is to focus on effective pipelines to move purchased items from stock to outgoing shipments as efficiently as possible. Routing technologies and in-house software can help make this process painless and automated.
As for their customers, businesses should provide multiple shipping options — especially next day — along with a way for customers to track packages. Package tracking can significantly reduce the amount of inquiries and complaints leveled at your shipping department. Customers like to see where their packages are and when they will arrive.
In the future, tracking may include GPS beacons wired to a drone as it hovers over hill and dale to find its eager customer. To achieve this, a regulatory process that acknowledges the usefulness of automated drones must begin soon, as Amazon’s Meisner urged. Until then, businesses and their customers will have to get used to shipping and receiving packages the old fashion way.