Skip to main content

When is my personal drone landing?

By Ryan Calo
December 17, 2013 -- Updated 1659 GMT (0059 HKT)
<strong>Express delivery:</strong> Australian textbook rental service <a href='http://www.zookal.com/' target='_blank'>Zookal</a> make good on UAV's (unmanned aerial vehicles) promise to provide lightning-speed personal deliveries. French postal service La Poste claimed to be launching a newspaper delivery drone service in April -- <a href='http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/02/drone-mail-delivering-france_n_2332639.html' target='_blank'>only to reveal it as a hoax</a>. But Zookal looks to be the real deal, offering Sydney students the chance to have their textbooks dropped at any location. Express delivery: Australian textbook rental service Zookal make good on UAV's (unmanned aerial vehicles) promise to provide lightning-speed personal deliveries. French postal service La Poste claimed to be launching a newspaper delivery drone service in April -- only to reveal it as a hoax. But Zookal looks to be the real deal, offering Sydney students the chance to have their textbooks dropped at any location.
HIDE CAPTION
10 friendly neighborhood drones
10 friendly neighborhood drones
10 friendly neighborhood drones
10 friendly neighborhood drones
10 friendly neighborhood drones
10 friendly neighborhood drones
10 friendly neighborhood drones
10 friendly neighborhood drones
10 friendly neighborhood drones
10 friendly neighborhood drones
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tech companies such as Amazon or Google are planning major robotics initiatives
  • Ryan Calo: Drone technology can revolutionize delivery, agriculture, photography
  • He says of course there are many technical, legal and social hurdles to overcome
  • Calo: When drone app store opens, that's when innovation will take really off

Editor's note: Ryan Calo is an assistant professor of law at the University of Washington specializing in the legal and policy aspects of robotics. He is author of the paper, "Open Robotics." Follow him on Twitter: @rcalo

(CNN) -- Amazon, Apple and Google: All of these big tech companies have announced major robotics initiatives or investments in recent months. Amazon, in particular, managed to capture the public imagination when founder Jeff Bezos outlined a plan to deliver packages by drones.

As drones become more mainstream, the prospect of excessive surveillance and other dangers loom. Drones drive down the costs of surveillance to a worrisomely low level. For example, it wouldn't be surprising if Amazon delivery drones were equipped with cameras for loss prevention. So what would stop law enforcement from asking Amazon for all of its drones' footage in a given neighborhood where there had been a crime?

Simultaneously, drone technology has the potential to revolutionize delivery, agriculture, photography and possibly disrupt major industries.

Ryan Calo
Ryan Calo

Imagine that you're shopping at Barnes & Noble. You ask for a book that the store does not carry. Rather than send you online, Barnes & Noble flies the book over from another store while you shop or take a coffee break.

Or imagine that you're a farmer whose livelihood depends on catching crop disease early. You could use drones to fly over thousands of acres in an afternoon to spot problem areas.

These are exciting uses for drones. But the real innovation will come when companies such as Amazon mix their robotics strategy with their love for open platforms.

What does that mean?

What's next for Amazon drones?
The lighter side of drones
Shooting down drones from your backyard

Recall that the first personal computers did not come to the market until the mid-1970s. Before that, government and industry purchased or leased computer equipment dedicated to a particular purpose such as database management. That's analogous to what Amazon and other companies are doing today.

Amazon paid nearly $800 million for the robotics firm Kiva Systems for the specific purpose of helping to organize its warehouses. The company is now experimenting with drones for the second task of delivery.

The real explosion of innovation in computing occurred when devices got into the hands of regular people. Suddenly consumers did not have to wait for IBM or Apple to write every software program they might want to use. Other companies and individuals could also write a "killer app." Much of the software that makes personal computers, tablets and smartphones such an essential part of daily life now have been written by third-party developers.

As author Jonathan Zittrain points out, it would be hard to name a category of important software -- from word-processing to e-mail -- that some computer hobbyist did not create first at home. Today, popular apps such as Snapchat or Instagram are used by millions of people. Yet, both were created by just two or three people in their 20s.

There are, of course, problems with apps for robots.

You do not necessarily want a live-action version of Angry Birds using drones. And who is responsible should someone get hurt by interacting with robots?

Once companies such as Google, Amazon or Apple create a personal drone that is app-enabled, we will begin to see the true promise of this technology. This is still a ways off. There are certainly many technical, regulatory and social hurdles to overcome. But I would think that within 10 to 15 years, we will see robust, multipurpose robots in the hands of consumers.

Worried about your kid getting to and from the bus? A drone app lets you follow her there by trailing her phone and returning when she waves. Selling your house? An app on a drone will command it to fly around your property and stitch together a panorama of photos for a virtual tour. Same drone, thousands of possibilities.

Put another way, the day when Amazon or Apple opens a drone app store is the day when drone innovation takes off. On an open model, the sky is quite literally the limit.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ryan Calo.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1022 GMT (1822 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2233 GMT (0633 HKT)
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
ADVERTISEMENT