Imagine a not-so-distant future where with just a tap on our smartphone, we could order a pizza and have it arrive at our door in just a few minutes – no pizza delivery guy necessary.
That's the drone delivery dream and it could very well happen in the next one to three years.
"Moving people and stuff around the planet in an efficient way is where I want to get," David Vos, Google's Head honcho of drones, said on Monday during an aviation industry event in Washington.
The exact example he used for his drone delivery dream was Google sending him his favorite beer.
"Can I have one now? And three minutes from now, please. And, oh by the way I'm going to be going down there so can you drop it there? And when I get there I want to just be walking along and get an update that says 'your beer is here,'" Vos described.
Google, now under the newly formed Alphabet that's run by Google's founders, is in a race with Amazon and Walmart to get drones in the air for consumer product deliveries.
Google's Project Wing is tasked to get that pizza or beer (or both) to us first before everyone else. But they'll need permission from the government before any drone takes off into the air. Currently, businesses interested in flying drones for commercial purposes need to seek the Federal Aviation Administration's approval on a case-by-case basis.
As a result, Google has begun buttering up to the FAA to help create the first online registration system and rules for drone use in America. Starting Dec. 21 last year, the cooperative efforts of government, drone makers, corporationsand interest groups have allowed for more than 180,000 drones to be registered in the FAA's database.
However, that is just the first step. Companies still aren't allowed to fly drones at night and operators are not allowed to fly more than one drone at a time. These, and a multitude of other limitations, hinder the growth of the drone industry, according to Amazon and drone interest groups.
Nonetheless, what little progress made so far is better than no progress at all. In fact, the FAA is comparatively chugging along better with drone regulation than other government agencies in their areas of interest.
Moreover, the FAA's Michael Huerta said that the government will indeed be finalizing its rules for drones being used in commercial operations by late spring this year. Unfortunately, an early draft of those rules revealed that a drone would have to be flown within the operator's line of sight.
For companies like Google, Amazon and Walmart that want to fill the skies with drones delivering pizzas to users who are mobile, the government's rules won't help their drone dreams fly. They're just too restrictive to get anything done.
The FAA hasn't even begun the formal process yet for drafting rules on automated drone deliveries. That's what the corporations need the most to get drones to do what they'd be best at.
But while the government takes its time, companies like Google and Amazon are already working on their own to create specialized air-traffic control systems made just for drones. In fact, reports reveal that Google is working with NASA to create such a system to guide drones in U.S. airspace and prevent mid-air collisions.
The idea of an army of drones buzzing overhead does seem, at the very least, an obnoxious nuisance. Vos' solution is to have drones use the lower airspace – about 500 feet up in the sky – as a drone highway.
"There's enough altitude ... and there's enough space out there today that is completely unoccupied, and we can do it in a way that is quiet enough and unobtrusive enough that it is not going to be impactful and that you won't really notice and that you can still accomplish a phenomenal amount of activity in that low altitude airspace regime," says Vos.
Should Google, Amazon and Walmart eventually get their way, we may never ever have to leave our homes. Besides pizza deliveries, drones could very well deliver our groceries, books, other Amazon orders, and maybe – just maybe – even ourselves to and from the office and back home.
Photo: Don McCullough | Flickr