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Supply Chain News: The Coronavirus Crisis may be Key Inflection Point for Drones


 

Seniors if Virginia Embrace Drone Deliveries from Wing and Walgreens

May 26, 2020
SCDigest Editorial Staff
     

It now been about seven years already since Amazon CEO appeared on the 60 Minutes program and disclosed the company has been working on use of drones for parcel deliveries. He indicated the technology was not far from being ready for prime time.

Since then, progress can be fairly categorized as slow, in part due to an abundance of caution on behalf of the Federal Aviation Administration, though in the past two years the FAA has started to loosen the regulatory reins a bit.

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Now, in the midst of the virus crisis, the drones are delivering not only medicines, but also items like toilet paper and groceries,


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Now, however, the unique circumstances and the resulting changes in behavioral requirements and practices may serve as the key inflection point in moving to widespread use of drone technology.

A recent article in the New York Times notes that drones "are suddenly everywhere during the coronavirus crisis, taking over any number of human tasks as people hunker indoors."

As just a few examples, drones are serving as aides to the police in many areas, looking for people ignoring social virus regulations, delivering medical supplies in Rwanda and snacks in Virginia, and hovering over crowds China to scan for people with fevers below.

Even if some of the applications may give civil libertarian a pause, the net effect may be to loosen concerns by both regulators and citizens relative to use of drones for other purposes, such as deliveries.

"Coronavirus has been devastating to humans, but may well prove a decisive step toward a long-prophesied Drone Age, when aerial robots begin to shed their Orwellian image as tools of war and surveillance and become a common feature of daily life," the Times writes.

Daniel Wilson, a former roboticist and the author of the 2011 science fiction novel "Robopocalypse," notes that "now we have a sudden global emergency in which the machines we're used to fearing are uniquely well suited to swoop in and save the day."

Not all view it that way, of course, especially with the heavy handed approach China is using with its drone surveillance of citizens below for virus-related violations.

An example reported by CNN: "Yes auntie, this is the drone speaking to you," a drone supposedly said to an elderly woman in an eerie bullhorn echo, according to a video published by Global Times, a state-controlled newspaper. "You shouldn't walk about without wearing a mask."

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It could get worse. The Times says drones can be equipped with something called stingrays that can collect information from people's mobile phones, and they can also come with night-vision cameras, GPS sensors, radar, lidar, and well as thermal and infrared cameras.

On the other hand, cities around the world are using drones to sanitize their streets. Drones are also performing crucial roles on the medical front lines that may be described as humanitarian, such as use of drones to deliver blood and other medical products to hospitals in Rwanda. (See Trip Report - CSCMP Edge 2018 in Nashville.)

"This is the moment when the drone industry gets to show what it can do," Miriam McNabb, the editor of Dronelife, an industry news site. "Things like drone delivery are lifesaving applications that are changing people's perceptions of drones."

And Wing, the drone-delivery service owned by Google's parent company, Alphabet, last year received FAA approval to begin commercial package delivery with drones in partnership with drug store retailer Walgreen's.

Now, in the midst of the virus crisis, the drones are delivering not only medicines, but also items like toilet paper and groceries.

The drone deliveries are especially popular with seniors staying indoors – and serves as an extreme outlier in which an older demographic that usually spurns new technology quickly jumped on board.

All this is likely to cause even more money to flow into the drone research and development.

"We're seeing that now with drones and other automation in response to the pandemic," Richard Yonck, the founder of Intelligent Future Consulting, told the Times, adding that "There's a push to develop new tools that can reduce people's exposure to the virus. What can we automate and by how much?"

As drone applications proliferate, we'll face a new worry: something drone critics call "robot smog" - drones as a new form of air pollution.

The coronavirus crisis will have profound effects on business, society and the supply chain – and it seems quite likely an explosion of drone usage will be one of them.


Do you think the virus will cause drone usse to "take off"   ? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.


 
 

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