- FAA to Regulate UAVs? (Forbes) — and the Executive Order will segment the privacy issues related to drones into two categories — public and private. For public drones (that is, drones purchased with federal dollars), the President’s order will establish a series of privacy and transparency guidelines. See also How ESPN is Shooting the X Games with Drones (Popular Mechanics)—it’s all fun and games until someone puts out their eye with a quadrocopter. The tough part will be keeping within the tight restrictions the FAA gave them. Because drones can’t be flown above a crowd, Calcinari says, “We basically had to build a 500-foot radius around them, where the public can’t go.” The drones will fly over sections of the course that are away from the crowds, where only ESPN production employees will be. That rule is part of why we haven’t seen drones at college football games.
- Milestones for SaaS Companies — “Getting from $0-1m is impossible. Getting from $1-10m is unlikely. And getting from $10-100m is inevitable.” —Jason Lemkin, ex-CEO of Echosign. The article proposes some significant milestones, and they ring true. Making money is generally hard. The nature of the hard changes with the amount of money you have and the amount you’re trying to make, but if it were easy, then we’d structure our society on something else.
- Woodcut Data Visualisation — Recently, I learned how to operate a laser cutter. It’s been a whole lot of fun, and I wanted to share my experiences creating woodcut data visualizations using just D3. I love it when data visualisations break out of the glass rectangle.
- Why is Concurrent Programming Hard? — on the one hand there is not a single concurrency abstraction that fits all problems, and on the other hand the various different abstractions are rarely designed to be used in combination with each other. We are due for a revolution in programming, something to help us make sense of the modern systems made of more moving parts than our feeble grey matter can model and intuit about.
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…