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Amazon’s Customers Waiting On Drone Delivery

When you’re in his world you think more about technology than regulations.

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Drones
A drone demonstrates delivery capabilities from the top of a UPS truck during testing in Lithia, Florida. VOA
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Jeff Bezos boldly predicted five years ago that drones would be carrying Amazon packages to people’s doorsteps by now.

Amazon customers are still waiting. And it’s unclear when, if ever, this particular order by the company’s founder and CEO will arrive.

Bezos made billions of dollars by transforming the retail sector. But overcoming the regulatory hurdles and safety issues posed by drones appears to be a challenge even for the world’s wealthiest man. The result is a blown deadline on his claim to CBS’ “60 Minutes” in December 2013 that drones would be making deliveries within five years.

The day may not be far off when drones will carry medicine to people in rural or remote areas, but the marketing hype around instant delivery of consumer goods looks more and more like just that — hype. Drones have a short battery life, and privacy concerns can be a hindrance, too.

“I don’t think you will see delivery of burritos or diapers in the suburbs,” says drone analyst Colin Snow.

Amazon, drones
In this Sept. 13, 2018, file photo Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, speaks at The Economic Club of Washington’s Milestone Celebration in Washington. VOA

Drone usage has grown rapidly in some industries, but mostly outside the retail sector and direct interaction with consumers.

The government estimates that about 110,000 commercial drones are operating in U.S. airspace, and the number is expected to soar to about 450,000 in 2022. They are being used in rural areas for mining and agriculture, for inspecting power lines and pipelines, and for surveying.

Amazon says it is still pushing ahead with plans to use drones for quick deliveries, though the company is staying away from fixed timelines.

“We are committed to making our goal of delivering packages by drones in 30 minutes or less a reality,” says Amazon spokeswoman Kristen Kish. The Seattle-based online retail giant says it has drone development centers in the United States, Austria, France, Israel and the United Kingdom.

Delivery companies have been testing the use of drones to deliver emergency supplies and to cover ground quickly in less populated areas. By contrast, package deliveries would be concentrated in office parks and neighborhoods where there are bigger issues around safety and privacy.

Amazon, online retailer, Drones
The Amazon warehouse in San Fernando de Henares is seen during a 3-day walkout to demand better wages and working conditions, on the outskirts of Madrid, Spain. VOA

In May, the Trump administration approved a three-year program for private companies and local government agencies to test drones for deliveries, inspections and other tasks.

But pilot programs by major delivery companies suggest few Americans will be greeted by package-bearing drones any time soon. United Parcel Service tested launching a drone from a delivery truck that was covering a rural route in Florida. DHL Express, the German delivery company, tested the use of drones to deliver medicine from Tanzania to an island in Lake Victoria.

Frank Appel, the CEO of DHL’s parent company, Deutsche Post AG, said “over the next couple of years” drones will remain a niche vehicle and not widely used. He said a big obstacle is battery life.

“If you have to recharge them every other hour, then you need so many drones and you have to orchestrate that. So good luck with that,” he told The Associated Press.

Appel said human couriers have another big advantage over drones: They know where customers live and which doorbell to ring. “To program that in IT is not that easy and not cheap,” he said.

Google , US, Alexa, Amazon, Drones
The logo of Amazon, online retailer is seen at the company logistics center in Lauwin-Planque, France. VOA

Analysts say it will take years for the Federal Aviation Administration to write all the rules to allow widespread drone deliveries.

Snow, the CEO of Skylogic Research, says a rule permitting operators to fly drones beyond their line of sight — so critical to deliveries — is at least 10 years away. A method will be needed to let law enforcement identify drones flying over people — federal officials are worried about their use by terrorists.

While the rules are being written, companies will rely on waivers from the FAA to keep experimenting and running small-scale pilot programs.

“People like DHL and the rest of them (will say), ‘Hey, we can deliver via drone this parcel package to this island,’ but that’s not the original vision that Amazon presented,” Snow says.

There is a long list of FAA rules governing drone flights. They generally can’t fly higher than 400 feet, over many federal facilities, or within five miles of an airport. Night flights are forbidden. For the delivery business, the most biggest holdup is that the machines must remain within sight of the operator at all times.

In June, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine said the FAA’s was being overly conservative in its safety standards for drones. The group said FAA’s risk-averse attitude was holding back beneficial uses, such as drones helping firefighters who are battling a fierce blaze.

Amazon,com. Flickr, Drones
Amazon’s Customers Still Waiting, Flickr

Even before the criticism by the scientific panel, the FAA had begun to respond more quickly to operators’ requests for waivers from some rules, says Alan Perlman, founder of the Drone Pilot Ground School in Nashville, Tennessee. He said it is also getting easier and cheaper to buy liability insurance.

Bezos was mindful of the safety issues, telling “60 Minutes” back in 2013, “This thing can’t land on somebody’s head while they’re walking around their neighborhood.”

Also Read: Apple Music To Work With Amazon Echo

That didn’t stop him from predicting that drones fed with GPS coordinates would be taking off and making deliveries in “four, five years. I think so. It will work, and it will happen.”

To Perlman, the billionaire’s optimism made perfect sense.

“When you’re in his world you think more about technology than regulations, and the (drone) technology is there,” Perlman said. (VOA)

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Almost 200 Countries Agree On Rules to Curb Global Warming

Countries also agreed to consider the issue of raising ambitions at a U.N. summit in New York next September. 

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Climate Talks, Global Warming
Heads of the delegations react at the end of the final session of the COP24 summit on climate change in Katowice, Poland. VOA

After two weeks of bruising negotiations, officials from almost 200 countries agreed Saturday on universal, transparent rules that will govern efforts to cut emissions and curb global warming. Fierce disagreements on two other climate issues were kicked down the road for a year to help bridge a chasm of opinions on the best solutions.

The deal agreed upon at U.N. climate talks in Poland enables countries to put into action the principles in the 2015 Paris climate accord.

“Through this package, you have made a thousand little steps forward together,” said Michal Kurtyka, a senior Polish official chairing the talks.

He said while each individual country would likely find some parts of the agreement it didn’t like, efforts had been made to balance the interests of all parties.

“We will all have to give in order to gain,” he said. “We will all have to be courageous to look into the future and make yet another step for the sake of humanity.”

United Nations, Global warming
Participants take part in plenary session during COP24 U.N. Climate Change Conference 2018 in Katowice, Poland. VOA

The talks in Poland took place against a backdrop of growing concern among scientists that global warming on Earth is proceeding faster than governments are responding to it. Last month, a study found that global warming will worsen disasters such as the deadly California wildfires and the powerful hurricanes that have hit the United States this year.

Overhaul of the global economy

And a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, concluded that while it’s possible to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century compared with pre-industrial times, this would require a dramatic overhaul of the global economy, including a shift away from fossil fuels.

Alarmed by efforts to include this in the final text of the meeting, oil-exporting nations the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait blocked an endorsement of the IPCC report midway through this month’s talks in Katowice. That prompted an uproar from vulnerable countries like small island nations and environmental groups.

Climate Talks, Global warming
A worker dismantles the exhibition pavilion of Austria as the U.N. climate conference drew to a close in Katowice, Poland. VOA

The final text at the U.N. talks omits a previous reference to specific reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and merely welcomes the “timely completion” of the IPCC report, not its conclusions.

Last-minute snags forced negotiators in Katowice to go into extra time, after Friday’s scheduled end of the conference had passed without a deal.

One major sticking point was how to create a functioning market in carbon credits. Economists believe that an international trading system could be an effective way to drive down greenhouse gas emissions and raise large amounts of money for measures to curb global warming.

But Brazil wanted to keep the piles of carbon credits it had amassed under an old system that developed countries say wasn’t credible or transparent.

Push from U.S. 

Among those that pushed back hardest was the United States, despite President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord and promote the use of coal.

Climate Talks, global warming
COP24 President Michal Kurtyka speaks during the opening of the COP24 U.N. Climate Change Conference 2018 in Katowice, Poland. VOA

“Overall, the U.S. role here has been somewhat schizophrenic — pushing coal and dissing science on the one hand, but also working hard in the room for strong transparency rules,” said Elliot Diringer of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a Washington think tank.

When it came to closing potential loopholes that could allow countries to dodge their commitments to cut emissions, “the U.S. pushed harder than nearly anyone else for transparency rules that put all countries under the same system, and it’s largely succeeded.”

“Transparency is vital to U.S. interests,” added Nathaniel Keohane, a climate policy expert at the Environmental Defense Fund. He noted that the breakthrough in the 2015 Paris talks happened only after the U.S. and China agreed on a common framework for transparency.

“In Katowice, the U.S. negotiators have played a central role in the talks, helping to broker an outcome that is true to the Paris vision of a common transparency framework for all countries that also provides flexibility for those that need it,” said Keohane, calling the agreement “a vital step forward in realizing the promise of the Paris accord.”

Climate Talks, global warming
Polish teenagers stage a protest in the U.N. climate conference venue on the last days of talks to urge negotiators from almost 200 countries to reach an agreement on ways of keeping global warming in check, in Katowice, Poland, Dec. 14, 2018. VOA

Among the key achievements in Katowice was an agreement on how countries should report their greenhouses gas emissions and the efforts they’re taking to reduce them. Poor countries also secured assurances on getting financial support to help them cut emissions, adapt to inevitable changes such as sea level rises and pay for damages that have already happened.

Some not hearing alarms

“The majority of the rulebook for the Paris Agreement has been created, which is something to be thankful for,” said Mohamed Adow, a climate policy expert at Christian Aid. “But the fact countries had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the finish line shows that some nations have not woken up to the urgent call of the IPCC report” on the dire consequences of global warming.

But a central feature of the Paris Agreement — the idea that countries will ratchet up their efforts to fight global warming over time — still needs to be proved effective, he said.

“To bend the emissions curve, we now need all countries to deliver these revised plans at the special U.N. secretary-general summit in 2019. It’s vital that they do so,” Adow said.

United Nations, global warming
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses during the opening of COP24 UN Climate Change Conference 2018 in Katowice, Poland, Dec. 3, 2018. VOA

In the end, a decision on the mechanics of an emissions trading system was postponed to next year’s meeting. Countries also agreed to consider the issue of raising ambitions at a U.N. summit in New York next September.

Also Read: Green Groups In Brazil Prepare A Climate Change Plan

Speaking hours before the final gavel, Canada’s Environment Minister Catherine McKenna suggested there was no alternative to such meetings if countries want to tackle global problems, especially at a time when multilateral diplomacy is under pressure from nationalism.

“The world has changed, the political landscape has changed,” she told The Associated Press. “Still, you’re seeing here that we’re able to make progress, we’re able to discuss the issues, we’re able to come to solutions.” (VOA)