- Guidance Note on Uncertainty (PDF) –expert advice to IPCC scientists on identifying, quantifying, and communicating uncertainty. Everyone deals with uncertainty, but none are quite so ruthless in their pursuit of honesty about it as scientists. (via Peter Gluckman)
- pageres — Responsive website screenshots. (via infovore)
- SparkFun Rapid Prototyping Lab — with links to some other expert advice on creative spaces. Some very obvious software parallels, too. E.g., this from Adam Savage’s advice: The right tool for the job – Despite his oft-cited declaration that ‘every tool is a hammer,’ Adam can usually be relied on to geek-out about purpose-built tools. If you’re having trouble learning a new skill, check that you’re using the right tools. The right tool is the one that does the hard work for you. There’s no point in dropping big bucks on tools you’re almost certainly not going to use, but don’t be afraid to buy the cheap version of the snap-setter, or leather punch, or tamper bit before trying to jerry-rig something that will end up making your life harder.
- Dudes with Drones (The Atlantic) — ghastly title (“Bros with Bots”, “Bangers with Clangers”, and “Fratboys with Phat Toys” were presumably already taken), interesting article. San Diego is the Palo Alto of drones. Interesting to compare software startups with the hardware crews’ stance on the FAA. “We want them to regulate us,” Maloney says. “We want nothing more than a framework to allow us to continue to operate safely and legally.”
Drones might never find meaningful retail delivery work, but they might find practical employment in warehouses.
After writing my short post about the use of drones to deliver packages, it occurred to me that there’s one more realistic use case. Unfortunately (or not), this is a use case that you’ll never see if you’re not an Amazon employee. But I think it’s very realistic. And obviously, I just can’t get drones out of my head.
As I argued, I don’t think you’ll see drones for retail delivery, except perhaps as a high-cost, very conspicuous consumption frill. What could get more conspicuous? Drone pilots are expensive, and I don’t think we’ll see regulations that allow autonomous drones flying in public airspace any time soon. Drones also aren’t terribly fast, and even if you assume that the warehouses are relatively close to the customers, the number of trips a drone can make per hour are limited. There’s also liability, weather conditions, neighbors shooting the drones down, and plenty of other drawbacks.
These problems all disappear if you limit your use of drones to the warehouse itself. Don’t send the drone to the customer: that’s a significant risk for an expensive piece of equipment. Instead, use the drones within the warehouse to deliver items to the packers. Weather isn’t an issue. Regulation isn’t an issue; the FAA doesn’t care what you do inside your building. Autonomous flight isn’t just a realistic option, it’s preferable: one massive computing system can coordinate and optimize the flight paths of all the drones. Amazon probably has some of that system built already for its Kiva robots, and Amazon is rather good at building large computing architectures. Distance isn’t an issue. Warehouses are big, but they’re not that big, and something (or someone) has to bring the product to the packing station, whether it’s a human runner or a Kiva robot. Read more…
For the time being, we won't see drone delivery outside of a few very specialized use cases.
I read with some interest an article on the Robotenomics blog about the feasibility of drone delivery. It’s an interesting idea, and the article makes a better case than anything I’ve seen before. But I’m still skeptical.
The article quotes direct operating costs (essentially fuel) that are roughly $0.10 for a 2-kilogram payload, delivered 10 kilometers. (For US-residents, that’s 4.4 pounds and about six miles). That’s reasonable enough.
The problem comes when he compares it to Amazon’s current shipping costs, of $2 to $8. But it sounds roughly like what Amazon pays to UPS or FedEx. And that’s not for delivering four pounds within a six-mile range. And it’s not just the fuel cost: it’s the entire cost, including maintenance, administrative overhead, executive bonuses, and (oh, yes) the driver’s salary. Read more…
How Moore's Law applies to drones — a backchannel meditation on drone limitations.
Extrapolation is great fun — especially over technology, where Moore’s Law has conditioned us to expect exponentially falling costs and fast adoption. Applied to drones, extrapolation might lead us to conclude that they’ll fill the skies soon, delivering anything we want on demand. They are, after all, rapidly getting cheaper and smarter, and drone-related announcements get tons of press.
So, where will the drones stop? A few of us meditated on the limitations of drones last week on news that Facebook plans to use them to provide Internet connections to those who don’t have them, and on DHL’s announcement that it would begin making deliveries by drone to the island of Juist, in the North Sea. An edited excerpt of our exchange follows. Read more…