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Drone Delivery and Driverless Cars

The future is almost here: new-fangled technologies that even 20 years ago would’ve been seen as complete science-fiction. Amazon and Google are currently getting a bit of sunlight and stepping away from their computer screens for a bit to pioneer the way for new, autonomous machinery in the forms of drones and driverless cars.

For the unaware, drones are aircraft-esque devices that can be piloted by someone remotely (or not even piloted by anyone at all); driverless cars are cars that are, well… driverless. Drones have been used all across the world, whether it be delivering medical supplies, filming movies or military reconnaissance, but they have surged in popularity in recent years as models are reaching price points accessible to the average person. Amazon however, has bigger plans…

Drone Delivery as Amazon Takes to the Skies

In a world where everything is accessible from our pockets and waiting has become a thing of the past, parcel delivery services can be the worst thing in the world. Amazon, to combat the impatient generation, have been bringing the system up-to-date through new forms of super-fast delivery.

Areas including London, Birmingham and Newcastle are currently Amazon’s testing grounds for a one hour delivery service exclusively for its Prime members. But what if one hour is too long for you to wait? You’re a busy person; you’ve got better things to be doing rather than waiting in for a delivery! Don’t fret! Amazon has been testing the use of unmanned drones for a drone delivery service that will deliver the parcel straight to your door (from the air!) within 30 minutes.

Here’s a video starring hot-dinner enthusiast, Jeremy Clarkson, to tell you more about it.

‘Amazon Prime Air’ lets orders (weighing less than 2.26kg) fly, quite literally, to your front-door with little to no human input at all. Postmen won’t exactly be pleased with Amazon’s plans, but the whole idea is focused around getting purchases to customers easily and quickly. There are currently a few caveats surrounding drones that currently hinder them however, namely because the whole ‘drones-craze’ is fairly recent and local governments haven’t planned for such a surge in their use.

The law currently states that drones need to be flown no higher than 400 feet in altitude and away from planes, airfields and any congested area. Amazon believes that a system needs to be put into place now to prepare for a world where drones zipping around the sky is as normal as seeing a car driving down the street. However, there are further limitations as Amazon’s drones can currently only fly within a 10 mile radius of an Amazon warehouse, which throws plans out the window for pretty much anyone who lives outside of a major city.

But with lots of pricey products getting flown about place-to-place leads the question, ‘what if someone spots a drone flying in the sky and decides they’d like to treat themselves to a free present and shoots the thing down?’. “I suppose they could shoot at trucks, too,” Amazon’s vice president for global public policy said, “We want to make the deliveries. And we believe that these Prime Air drones will be as normal as seeing a delivery truck driving down the street someday. So the novelty will wear off.”

All seems fairly rosy from Amazon’s court, but they haven’t put a finite date on when they want to offer drone delivery technology as an option for their customers, unlike Google who wants to get the future into the hands of the public within the next five years…

Your Own Personal Chauffeur

Google has also been testing the impossible with its own form of unmanned technology, the driverless car. It sounds like a concept that won’t see a release for another 50 years, but the cars are already driving about on the roads now, and trials are looking promising to make them available to the general public in 2020. The specially-designed vehicle self-drives using a combination of extremely clever software, lots of cameras, lasers and sensor and a computer – all of which are stored inside the car. Driverless cars can even ‘talk’ to other nearby driverless cars and collect information about the road, other cars and cyclists from them to build a picture of the surroundings to better aware itself…

Safety is easily the most crucial aspect that will contribute into turning this brilliant concept into a fully-functional reality. An idealistic world would be completely devoid of accidents, but the real world surprisingly just doesn’t work like that – yet. Driverless cars are built to obey the rules of the road perfectly, which people are sometimes guilty of ignoring; and because these cars drive so ideally, people seem to have a habit of knocking into them.

Google's Driverless Car

As of June 2015, their fleet of 23 cars have driven so far over 1,000,000 miles and been involved in 12 minor incidents. Nine of these incidents were from being rear-ended by another car, two being sideswiped and one where the Google car’s driver took control manually…

The main cause of incidents are primarily attributable to other drivers – ‘proper drivers’. People, as Google have surely now discovered, can be unpredictable on the road, and are far less ideal in their driving compared to their computerised counterparts. It’s these safety concerns around others, whether it be pedestrians, cyclists or other cars, that seems to be something that is really driving (pardon the pun) the development of the car – though perfecting that might take some time…

The potential benefits from driverless cars however, are endless: from allowing freedom to visually impaired people who are unable to drive normally, reducing accidents on the road and even letting people drink and ‘drive’. It’s essentially the perfect taxi service.

Governments around the world seem to be positive about engaging with the concept too. In the 2016 Budget, George Osbourne declared his push for driverless technology, announcing it would be tested on a ‘strategic road network’ from 2017, in addition to another £20 million which was allocated from the government’s Intelligent Mobility Fund to various driverless projects around the UK. Across the pond, it’s currently only legal to test in 8 states but the support from those states are equally as embracing of the tech. In Nevada, special red license plates are assigned with an infinity symbol on them, the state’s DMV director said “I felt using the infinity symbol was the best way to represent the ‘car of the future’”.

All these autonomous technologies are designed around making life easier for people, getting rid of the monotonous tasks of modern life, whether that’s waiting for a parcel or sitting in a traffic jam. Now, if only someone can make something to queue in the Post Office for me…

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