Skip to main content

When is my personal drone landing?

By Ryan Calo
updated 11:59 AM EST, Tue December 17, 2013
<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
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Simon Tisdall: Has John Kerry's recent track record left Russia's wily leader ever more convinced of U.S. weakness?
updated 12:40 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Mel Robbins says Nate Scimio deserves credit for acting bravely in a frightening attack and shouldn't be criticized for posting a selfie afterward
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Dr. Mary Mulcahy says doctors who tell their patients the truth risk getting bad ratings from them
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Peggy Drexler says the married Rep. McAllister, caught on video making out with a staffer, won't get a pass from voters who elected him as a Christian conservative with family values
updated 7:43 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
David Frum says the president has failed to react strongly to crises in Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, encouraging others to act out
updated 4:57 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Eric Liu says Paul Ryan gets it very wrong: The U.S.'s problem is not a culture of poverty, it is a culture of wealth that is destroying the American value linking work and reward
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Frida Ghitis writes: "We are still seeing the world mostly through men's eyes. We are still hearing it explained to us mostly by men."
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Chester Wisniewski says the Heartbleed bug shows how we're all tangled together, relying on each other for Internet security
updated 3:26 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Danny Cevallos says an Ohio school that suspended a little kid for pointing his finger at another kid and pretending to shoot shows the growth in "zero tolerance" policies at school run amok
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT