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Commercial Drone future, why the skies will not fall.

So the other day a few Luddites opined in one of my Facebook threads that they felt that the upcoming drone revolution would not be practical in cities. This short video shows exactly why they are wrong:

As a technologist who has built complex distributed system I had to chuckle at the doubts being described. People who don't work in technology have no clue of the large reduction of complexity and errors that attends having a good design. Consider the internet we are using...designed to ensure that our communications find their way to the desired destination...even with constant breaks in the communication channel across the internet...magic ? No, good design, expected packet loss and routing via  tcp/ip , udp at the low level through routers and switches and what seems like a hopeless problem is routinely done trillions of time per second across the whole globe.

The video above demonstrates in a few seconds why those Luddites are wrong, consider first that planes today are mostly human driven still...and thus prone to the machinations of humans as well as their errors. Then consider the incredible density of flights...over a short 7 hour span with zero failures.

Now make them all robots and you can get even more dense while not increasing the failure rate at all since unless a systemic problem asserts (a nightmare scenario Luddites like to mention with no real reason to assert it other than playing "what if") they'll just continue to fly getting from place to place...just like the packets being routed variably around the internet to convey this message to you. Now the analogy is not exact since the internet in fact does factor in "dropped" packets and a real route system can't exactly do that since material costs are finite unlike information being transmitted electronically which can be regenerated if it doesn't reach it's destination but good design will virtually eliminate the equivalent of "dropped" packets in dense areas.


I've explained variably in my responses to these Luddites but here's the meat of it.

1) Once Commercial Drones are given multiple ways to sense their environments (Intel is releasing a chip set that allows cheap 3D sensing of environments) they'll be easy to build so that they can fly autonomously and engage natural collision avoidance heuristics.

2) Once enabled with communication radios they can provide predictive data to nearby drones allowing yet another reduction in the possibility of collisions by adjusting courses from further off to avoid them...even while navigating in close proximity to near by drones.

3) Drones should be designed with redundant rotors...taking out a rotor on a drone should not make it catastrophically fail (fall from the sky). Good design will assume a rotor can die at any time and the drone can then initiate an emergency redirect to ground, ideally at known land zones for drones that experience such failures.

4) Drone rotor power in my design would be independent, if using a battery the battery system would take 4 independent cells, each feeding independent circuits to the rotors and thus preventing a catastrophic failure of any one battery from bringing down the entire drone.

5) Delivery logistics to final destinations in apartment buildings will be handled by simply having packages delivered to the roof of such buildings or designated delivery platforms placed out side windows or common areas for buildings. Surveillance cameras will continue to be widely deployed and will be far smarter than today, so fears of theft are again more fear than fact.

:All of these are base constraints that the lucky engineers working on building commercial drone delivery at Amazon and other companies would be wise to put into practice if they are to avoid the Luddite fears of drones falling from the sky mentioned above.

Looking at this chart of humans driving air planes over a 7 hour period and considering the difference in susceptibility to errors that automated systems are compared to humans..makes it pretty clear to me that these folks are wrong.

I made a wager that 10 years from now we'll see a large US city with some level of commercial drone deliveries happening. I stand by that statement.


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