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The Dronenet

John Robb imagines a drone delivery service that will replace UPS, FedEx, the USPS, bicycle messengers, Kozmo-type services, etc. in the short-hop delivery of small items.

Here’s a simplified version of what I’m talking about:

1. I put package onto a landing pad at my home.

2. Drone arrives, takes package and flies away.

3. Drone delivers package to landing pad at delivery location.

There’s almost nothing technically in the way of this happening right now. Here’s how it would work in practice:

- My brother left his iphone at my house. I want to get it to him, but he lives 30 mi away (as the crow flies, 50 by driving).

- I put it into a delivery container and put it on a small landing pad outside my home.

- I order a drone on my phone and put the ID of the container into the order (I could just as easily use a drone I buy to do it P2P).

- A drone arrives 10 minutes later, picks up the container automatically.

- After a couple of hops, it arrives at my brother’s landing pad, where it drops off the container and alerts him with an e-mail/text.

- Costs? Probably less than $0.25 per 10 mi. or so. So, about $0.75 in this instance. Time? An hour or so.

This is a compelling idea but I doubt it’ll happen in a decentralized way. More likely that Amazon will buy a fledgling drone delivery company in the next year or two and begin rolling out same-day delivery of items weighing less than 2 pounds in non-urban areas where drone flights are permitted. Unless the FAA or Homeland Security gets in the way, which they might. But if not, Wal-Mart, Target, and everyone else will follow suit, including (likely too late) FedEx and UPS.