The Interesting Thing About Google's Delivery Drones Is Not The Drones, But Massive Societal Shift They Envision

from the the-sharing-society dept

Alexis Madrigal, over at The Atlantic, has the big scoop story concerning Google's project to create delivery drones, in its Google X moonshot factory. The project, unimaginatively dubbed Project Wing, has many people comparing it to Amazon's similarly announced plans for delivery drones. And, of course, for years before that, we discussed ideas like the TacoCopter (and the LobsterCopter) which some people were trying to build to deliver food via drones. Google has confirmed the project (notably never using the term drone, but instead "self-flying vehicles") with this video:
Of course, as we've been noting since the TacoCopter days, the big problem here is that the FAA hates drones and insists that they are 100% illegal for any for-profit effort no matter how useful or reasonable.

While most people are comparing this to Amazon's drone delivery idea, or talking about the nature of "instant gratification," it seems like many are totally missing the much bigger thinking behind Google's effort here. Like most truly disruptive innovations, the interesting thing here isn't in just delivering packages faster, but how such a move could totally reshape society -- a vision that the team behind this at Google apparently are well aware of. From Madrigal's writeup, this key part is buried in the middle, but is the most important point. This isn't about faster delivery. This is about how faster delivery can totally change our relationship to physical things:

The idea goes like this: Because people can’t assume near-instantaneous delivery of whatever they need, they stockpile things. They might have a bunch of batteries, slowly decharging in a drawer, or a drill that they use for 10 minutes a year. Each of these things is a personal possession that sits around, embodying all this energy and industrial effort unproductively.

If this sounds familiar, it should: It is the argument—even down to the drill example—that organizations like Worldchanging made in the mid-00s for the creation of “product-service systems.” Those ideas, in turn, became key planks in the original conception of the “sharing economy,” imagined as one in which the world could make much less stuff because efficient, digital logistics would let each asset be used by more people.

“It would help move us from an ownership society to an access society. We would have more of a community feel to the things in our lives,” Teller preached. “And what if we could do that and lower the noise pollution and lower the carbon footprint, while we improve the safety of having these things come to you?”

People like to mock ideas like "the sharing economy" for putting things like homes and cars to more efficient use rather than leaving them idle all the time. But drones that can move things about easily, quickly and efficiently really could absolutely change how we think about property and ownership. Now, for those who are worried about Google, they might not like Google being at the center of this, but it's hardly likely that they'll be the only player in this space.

But this is also why the FAA's restrictions could be so damaging. The FAA, like so many government bureaucracies, has trouble viewing the future. They only view it through the prism of the past. So, drones are seen as toys that might "interfere with airplanes." The FAA is in absolutely no rush to allow commercial drone use (which is why Google's tests are all being done in Australia), because to FAA bureaucrats, what's the big deal? Drones are toys. The fact that they could reshape certain aspects of the way society works doesn't even enter the picture.

But if you're trying to understand where the future of innovation is going, dismissing projects like this as just being about toys -- or even just being about delivering things faster -- means that you're missing everything.

Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 7:20am

    I'm not sold on the use of drones for delivery purposes , It would make it too easy for any nut job to pack one full of light explosives and aim for a crowd or a building hell it could hold anything.

     

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    Whatever (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 7:29am

    Google is famous for swinging for the fences with beta this and beta that, but outside of their core businesses they are generally failures because they are specifically NOT in touch with the common people.

    Gosh golly see whiz ideas that seem great to a bunch of geeks and geekettes sitting around Googleplex just doesn't very often seem to turn into anything the public really craves.

    So using Google as a barometer of the future or some sort of measuring stick for innovations isn't really the best idea.

     

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    Marcos, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 7:36am

    The criminal side

    I just wonder how Google plans to keep the would be criminals from vandalizing or some thug just getting his jollies by just using these things as flying targets....Hmm this will be interesting

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 7:36am

    This is just twist on the "TurkeyCopter" and we all (well, some) of us know how *that* worked out, don't we? BTW, *everyone* knows domestic turkeys can't fly.

    Seriously, though, taken to a logical conclusion, this would make living fully "ex-urb" (even more so than farm country) somewhat practical - indeed, in the end, together with telecommuting and remote learning, it could conceivably obsolete roads themselves (though I find that rather unlikely for a *long* time yet). I could see some folks opting to live in small communities of like-minded neighbours, with no access for mechanical land transport but still enjoying most of a 21st century lifestyle.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 7:37am

    delivery by owl?
    can they make those things look like owls?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 7:39am

    Re:

    Absolutely, Google is notorious for spectacular failures like Android or gmail.

    You just don't seem to understand that to hit home runs you have to swing for the bleachers and be prepared to strike out a lot.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 7:40am

    Re:

    If someone wanted to do that, they could do it right now anyway.

     

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    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 7:41am

    Re:

    Funny, you do remember that Edison found 10,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb, before he found one that worked? Oh, and since then, a bunch more have been found.

    Somebody, someplace, is working on what's next, and since neither you nor I nor anyone else actually know what next is, there is a need to try a bunch of stuff. Only some of it will work, and even less will be 'next'. Is Google doing better than 1/10,000?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 7:46am

    1 reason it'll never work - not economical

    There's 1 big reason why all these delivery drone ideas will never become commercially viable, fuel costs.

    It takes fuel to lift weight off the ground, even more fuel then cars and trucks use, which only use fuel to go forward on the ground. Cars and trucks don't lose fuel fighting against the earth's gravity.

    Worse yet, the heavier the load you're lifting, the more fuel the drones will burn. Not to mention the drones have to lift their own weight to. And the drones themselves might be quite expensive to.

     

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    DaveHowe (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 7:49am

    Re: flying bombs

    Problems there are

    a) the same could apply to cars, vans, baby carriages..

    b) people who are going to break the law ANYHOW, won't care too much if the FAA have approved their usage or not...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 7:54am

    Re: 1 reason it'll never work - not economical

    On the other hand, playing devil's advocate for a moment, drones can fly direct over many kinds of obstacles, while ground-based transport has to follow roads and tracks (and water-based transport has to follow canals).

    That saves some of the fuel.

     

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    Whatever (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 7:54am

    Re: Re:

    As I mentioned, Google has had some successes in their core business areas, but most of their swing for the fence things and "innovative" ideas fail pretty solidly.

    Google swing for the fences and points to the bleachers, but rarely hits them out of the park. Even when they look to have hit a home run, it seems to be a mirage.

    For what it's worth, many in the smart phone world consider Android to be a real problem child, with way too many flavors of out of date operating systems and way too many variations and permutations. Writing software for it is a major PITA. So it's a success in some ways, but perhaps ripe to be wiped out by something better soon.

    And don't get me wrong, Google has plenty of successes as well. It's just weird to see a company with clearly huge access and the ability to influence what the entire world sees and does not being able to move forward in very many areas.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 7:57am

    Re: 1 reason it'll never work - not economical

    While this could very well be true for deliveries across long distances over short distances any loss for fuel will easily be made up for in the ability of the drone to avoid burning fuel in traffic and being able to travel in a straight line.

    I imagine the best way to use drones will be making the post office obsolete. Send out a flight of drones every morning to drop of the mail. The drones can be stored close to the point of delivery to reduce flight time and cost.

     

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    Rich Kulawiec, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 7:57am

    Re: Re: flying bombs

    Yes, they (the bad guys) could do it now with vans or cars or baby carriages or anything else, but none of those things fly.

    Also none of those things come equipped with remote control systems that feature baked-in miserable security.

    Thus the security problems posed by drones are both qualitatively and quantitatively different than those posed by these other items.

    That doesn't meant that drones are a bad idea. It does mean that some very serious thinking, designing, implementation and testing needs to go into them before they're permitted.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 7:58am

    Re: 1 reason it'll never work - not economical

    I just look at this as problems to solve not obstacles.

    1) How can I make a light battery that can hold a high charge for a long time.
    2) How can I make a solar panel that is 100% efficient.

    I know people are working on this as we speak.

     

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    Haywood (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 8:09am

    Stockpile

    I don't mind having 15 batteries slowly losing charge in a drawer.
    Point is; I bought those batteries very cheaply, at a discount club. Just how much are the drone delivery guys going to get for 4 batteries when my remote goes down, and just how instantaneous is it? I need that remote, and I need it now.
    There is at this point a savings in buying in bulk, there is a number where it is worth your wile if you will use it up in time and have the space to store it. 200 razor blades, 50 water filters, what ever, I'll take the savings & truly have it instantaneously.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 8:14am

    Hey, didn't we already tried that "no unnecessary possessions" and "sharing" in the days of the Soviet Union and the Iron Curtain? And we know how it ended... Some of us have even witnessed it first-hand.

     

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    Michael, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 8:16am

    Re: Stockpile

    It is other things as well. The drill is a great example - instead of buying tools, tool rental at a cheap cost and near-instant delivery could mean way less clutter in many homes.

    It will be difficult to get over the "I want to own it" of this generation, but the next generation may find it convenient to not own a serving platter - and just have one brought to them for occasional use.

     

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    Rich Kulawiec, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 8:22am

    Re: Re:

    "If someone wanted to do that, they could do it right now anyway."

    Yes, BUT: their task gets markedly easier if the sky is full of drones -- free for the hijacking -- because that reduces their TCO quite a bit. It also provides them with an environment in which the presence of a drone or drones isn't anomalous.

    Building weapon systems is tedious, error-prone, expensive, risky, and generally hard. Having someone else build them for you and then furnish them to you at zero cost is far more effective. See "ISIS" for a timely example.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 8:32am

    "...dismissing projects like this...means that you're missing everything."

    The usual case for the masses, well, until 50 years AFTER a project succeeds.

    Loaded with explosives?! No new technology required. It is merely a curiosity that no one has bothered to do this YET. I'm thinkin' it's 'cuz trucks and passenger airliners hold a LOT more explosives.

    Not economical?! Yikes, the cost saving and reduced environmental and carbon footprint from producing, storing, purchasing, etc. hugely fewer instances of everything and paying only for limited use alone overwhelms that argument. Of course this also implies the issues of why the approach will be so sternly resisted...reduced sales of all durable goods. Black & Decker wants EVERYONE to own a circular saw. Just like all sectors of the manufacturing sector the business model is not about eco-friendly cost savings for consumers.

    "Disruption" is a magical word. Keep aiming for the parking lot, Google.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 8:34am

    Re: Re: Re:

    I don't think those factors really make it that much easier. Even though R/C vehicles are not common right now, it doesn't really matter. If people notice an oddball drone in the air, it's already too late to have a real chance stop it. Also, this technology is really very cheap. If you aren't looking for a range of hundreds of miles, you could put together a system to do this for a couple of grand, max. If all you want is a flying bomb you could use while you have line of sight the whole way, under a thousand.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 8:37am

    Transporters

    With transporters and better 3d printers a lot of the need to move things will go away. Quantum teleportation research is where the solution lies. Drones may find many applications in remote areas but are an evolutionary dead end.

     

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    Haywood (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 8:51am

    Re: "...dismissing projects like this...means that you're missing everything."

    I'll plead ignorance on this; how is it a smaller carbon footprint to buy 2 water filters at a time as opposed to buying 50 all in one box, likely manufactured all at once, shipped all at once, with no extra packaging. It certainly helps my wallet footprint with; 2 filters retailing @ $7.95 & a box of 50 @ around $40. I'd say it even reduces my heating and cooling costs by decreasing the sq ft of the room where they are stored.

     

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    jupiterkansas (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 8:52am

    Re:

    They should never have invented automobiles because it makes it too easy for nutjobs to load it with explosives and blow up a building.

     

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    jupiterkansas (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 8:53am

    Maybe the FAA is why this video was filmed in Australia. Another country will have a sky full of drones long before the U.S. does.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 8:56am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Just the other day I saw a 'drone' flying around and over various buildings. At first I wasn't sure what it was and I thought it might be a helicopter (it was a distance away and it was kinda dark and the thing had weird lights) but eventually I figured out what it was. The person flying it had a screen where he can see what the drone was looking at and a control panel to control its direction. He flew it all over the place around and over buildings while controlling it from the parking lot and seeing what it was doing from his screen. No one really says anything and, as you said, if someone already wanted to use this for terrorist purposes they already can.

    My biggest concerns are twofold. If these things are transporting expensive packages someone might try to 'shoot' or take it down to take the items on it. I guess if they are transporting specialized items, like a book that no one else besides the person ordering it would really care about, it might be OK.

    The second is safety issues. Wind, weather fluctuations, rain, etc... might cause the thing to hit someone or damage property. A falling drone hitting someone at high velocity doesn't really seem that safe to me and if you have a bunch of these flying around all it might take is for a gust of wind to cause two of them to maybe collide or cause issues and fall.

     

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  27.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 9:02am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Yes, Google fails a lot. But guess what, that's no different from any other business out there. Most other businesses just don't make their trials public like Google does. Hell, most businesses (like 95%) fail entirely within one year.

    "with way too many flavors of out of date operating systems and way too many variations and permutations."

    Yeah, hows that working out for Apple? A more open platform may be hard to program for, but Windows is still king and if anything can kill it it's not Mac but Linux.

    The way I see Google, they don't want to move with the crowd or just ahead of the crowd, but they want to lead the pack. Leading means that you can easily take a wrong turn.

    I'd follow the same philosophy as Google if I had that kind of money. Throw anything and everything at the wall and see what sticks. Even if something doesn't stick, the technology behind it can be repurposed to make something else stick.

     

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    Zos (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 9:02am

    Re:

    which he could do with a hobby kit now, or a back back. straw manish.

     

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    Zos (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 9:03am

    Re: Re:

    pack*

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 9:04am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Many famous inventions were a result of trial and error. Hardly anyone is going to be successful the first time and most successes were a result of many more failed attempts but you learn from your failures because at least you learn what doesn't work so that the next time you might be able to improve upon it. The alternative is to never try anything and while that may eliminate your failures it's also a sure formula for eliminating your successes.

    Having said that Google has had a reputation for starting random projects, keeping them for a number of years or whatever, and then suddenly discontinuing them after some people have become reliant on them perhaps because they don't think enough people use it. This gives people uncertainty and discourages people to rely on anything new that Goolgle tries knowing that in a year from now it might be discontinued.

     

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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 9:09am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "If these things are transporting expensive packages someone might try to 'shoot' or take it down to take the items on it."

    The items would be in boxes, so someone would ether have to know what's in the box already, or would just have to randomly shoot down a drone and hope. Maybe really stupid criminals, but probably the same odds as someone smashing in your window and hoping to find something valuable. That's why they always warn you to put your valuable stuff under a ratty blanket or coat. Why bother smashing a window on a hope?

    "Wind, weather fluctuations, rain, etc."

    Most expensive drones have software in them to automatically (and faster then a human ever could) correct for wind, extra weight, loss of a propeller, that kind of thing using GPS. I would assume that the ones Google would be using are even smarter then that. Remember, they did buy that robot company with that really creepy dog thing not all that long ago. Maybe this is why.

     

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    Mason Wheeler (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 9:12am

    Re: Re: Re:

    As I mentioned, Google has had some successes in their core business areas, but most of their swing for the fence things and "innovative" ideas fail pretty solidly.

    Yeah, but the thing is, neither email systems nor mobile phone operating systems were anywhere near part of Google's "core business areas" when they started working on them. They don't have "some successes in their core business areas;" they try new things, and the ones that are successful become core business.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 9:26am

    Re:

    So using Google as a barometer of the future or some sort of measuring stick for innovations isn't really the best idea.

    I don't see how the article said anything about using Google as a barometer. In fact, it says it's likely that others will go down this path as well. It just says that Google's *vision* of where this goes shows that the impact of drones is likely to be much bigger than what many folks envision.

     

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    Anonymosu Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 9:27am

    Re: Re: Re:

    "For what it's worth, many in the smart phone world consider Android to be a real problem child, with way too many flavors of out of date operating systems and way too many variations and permutations. Writing software for it is a major PITA."

    Citation needed for all of that.

    No experts that have written articles I read, which I do on an hourly basis pretty much, have said anything of the sort. That also includes some of the awesome male and female developers who are known and lauded in the XDA Developer forums.

    While there are numerous versions of the OS, the majority of devices are on Jelly Bean and Kit Kat at this point in time. To be a bit more precise, devices on Jelly Bean account for about 54% of Android devices and devices on Kit Kat account for roughly 20% of Android devices. This means about three quarters of Android devices out there are running literally the latest version of the OS or the one just before it, which is not that out of date and in point of fact a pretty good version to be running. The reason for this is that even the latest devices like Android Wear can work with them and pair easily to them.

    Also, any developer worth his or her salt uses the Android SDK and all it contains to properly code for the various devices (since there are so many in various shapes and sizes) and versions of the OS.

    In other more not so nice terms, you're full of shit until you prove otherwise. I can and will cite sources that prove you wrong, but since you made the claim the onus is on you to back it up first before I rip it completely to shreds.

     

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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 9:40am

    Re: The criminal side

    What's stopping people from doing that now? What's stopping would be criminals from vandalizing random cars or using them as moving targets? It's what I did for fun in GTAV.

    I think physics might just be the best deterrent to using them as flying targets. Clay pidgin shooting is a giant pain in the ass, and they're much closer.

    Even if someone did manage to shoot one down, these things have GPS and are constantly phoning home. It wouldn't be hard to track down the drown and then find who did it.

     

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    Chris Brand, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 9:41am

    Re: Re: 1 reason it'll never work - not economical

    I suspect that, like most things, saving the cost of a person (driver) more than makes up for any increased fuel cost. People are expensive. Drones could (in theory) be completely software-driven.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 9:41am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    GPS is not all that reliable and it often takes time to find my location and sometimes it's off by quite a bit and my position indicator moves around from one house to the other despite the fact I'm not moving (and being set to 'high accuracy').

     

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    Richard (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 9:51am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "Wind, weather fluctuations, rain, etc."

    Most expensive drones have software in them to automatically (and faster then a human ever could) correct for wind, extra weight, loss of a propeller, that kind of thing using GPS. I would assume that the ones Google would be using are even smarter then that. Remember, they did buy that robot company with that really creepy dog thing not all that long ago. Maybe this is why.


    Correcting for wind is one thing - having anough power to overcome the wind is quite another. Recently a drone flew away in the UK because it passed through a wind shear layer and had insufficent power to exceed the wind velocity.

    As a simpole rule of thumb - if its big enough to overcome the wind it's way too big to be a cheap delivery mechanism that can safely be flown automatically in the vicinity of people.

    Remember Google also bought a D wave which is provably incapable of working as advertised.

    Remember all the big companies that invested in cold fusion.

     

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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 9:58am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Well, one, that's kinda your fault for standing inside and expecting a good signal, drones will be in the sky. Two, the drones don't just use GPS, they also use accelerometers, gyroscopes, and compasses. Really, to keep a drone stationary, you just need a really accurate accelerometer and gyroscope.

    On top of all that, your phone GPS is a low grade GPS. Good enough for driving instructions, but it doesn't need to be that accurate. Higher end GPSes like property surveyors and military equipment can be accurate to within an inch (that stuff is far too expensive to put in a phone).

    The expensive drones that the average person can buy can already do all this, so I'm not pulling this out of my ass. I would assume (and probably accurately) that Google has even better toys.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 9:59am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Yes, overcoming wind is more than just a question of reflexes.

    "if its big enough to overcome the wind it's way too big to be a cheap delivery mechanism that can safely be flown automatically in the vicinity of people. "

    This brings up an interesting question of how you measure "safe".

    On the one hand, the larger a bird is the more stable it is in the air (precisely because it is less susceptible to being buffeted around by winds) -- so in terms of risk of accident, the bigger it is the safer it is.

    On the other hand, if a small bird crashes, the potential damage is much less than if a big bird does. So in terms of the effects of an accident, the smaller it is the safer it is.

     

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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 10:05am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "having anough power to overcome the wind is quite another."

    Well, that does bring up an interesting twist to a delivery system made of drones. Is the weather clear enough for a delivery?

    I'm not arguing that a business can be made out of this. I'm just saying that it's technically possible. Do I think Google will? Oh hell no, they're not even going to try. This is just one of the many things that Google has announced that they're fiddling with, but nothing will come directly from it. I'd expect that they're just going to use what they learn here and apply it to something else we haven't even thought of yet.

     

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    Rich Kulawiec, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 10:12am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    You're not thinking like an attacker. (Which is understandable, most people don't.)

    A single drone can't carry much in the way of explosives. And, being a single drone, it can only hit one target.

    On the other hand, it's an awfully small, evasive target to hit if you're trying to take it out. I don't believe that there exists a weapon system capable of doing so in an urban environment. (Picture one flying above a downtown street at 100 feet. How, EXACTLY, do you plan to take it down before it reaches its target, and how, EXACTLY, do you plan to do that without inflicting a heck of a lot of collateral damage on everything and everyone in the vicinity?)

    But it's not even necessary to involve explosives: in case anyone's forgotten recent history, flying objects make decent kinetic weapons. Particularly if they're directed straight down so that the v-squared part of mv^2 is large.

    But this is all just the beginning. A competent attacker won't just use one drone: they'll use many, in order to either (a) hit multiple targets simultaneously or (b) swarm onto a single target. Armed or unarmed, that's a lot of high-speed objects to contend with. (Even merely disabling them -- so that they drop out of the sky passively -- could inflict a lot of casualties and damage depending on where it happened.)

    We've already seen hideous security problems with "smart" cars. We've already seen hideous security problems with "the Internet of things". There is no reason to think that we won't see hideous security problems with drones, too. So attackers will be able to acquire them, whether by hijacking them in flight, or by compromising their C&C networks, or by the simple expedient of breaking into the warehouse where they're stored and loaded them into a truck. And when the inevitable happens, we will of course hear "nobody could have foreseen", as we always do.

     

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  43.  
    identicon
    PRMan, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 10:24am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    While not as easy as C# on Windows in Visual Studio (nothing is), it really wasn't that difficult to make an Android app.

    The only people struggling with the different versions are those trying to stream video or do other hardware-intensive things that are bypassing the API.

     

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  44.  
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    weneedhelp (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 11:48am

    Re: Re: The criminal side

    If I were to get one to drop out of the sky... I'd have a Faraday cage set up to put it in.

     

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  45.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 11:51am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Stop.

    You are going down the path of what Bruce Schneier calls a movie-plot threat.

    Quoting from his essay:

    "We all do it. Our imaginations run wild with detailed and specific threats. We imagine anthrax spread from crop dusters. Or a contaminated milk supply. Or terrorist scuba divers armed with almanacs. Before long, we're envisioning an entire movie plot, without Bruce Willis saving the day. And we're scared."

     

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  46.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 12:19pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    and I think he's still kinda missing the point. Having enough computational power to correct for changes in wind is different than having the mechanical capabilities to adjust fast enough as the direction of the wind shifts randomly and quickly. If the wind direction changes it takes physical time to adjust your propellers accordingly no matter how fast you can digitally compute the necessary position your propellers need to move to. Too many large changes in the wind in a very short period of time could easily cause accumulated instability until the drone takes an unsupportable position and falls.

     

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  47.  
    identicon
    Rich Kulawiec, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 12:25pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I don't think so. Far simpler events -- not involving any kind of malicious actors -- could result in similar outcomes. What happens when the GPS system that 22 delivery drones are all relying on hits a software fault and sends them all bad positioning data simultaneously? What happens when one of them runs out of fuel unexpectedly because the sensor that measures that is broken and wasn't detected during routine maintenance? What happens when...

    The point is that -- so far -- nobody seems to have undertaken a comprehensive study of the risks, whether their source is architecture, design, operation, fabrication, environment, third parties or anything else. Until that work is done, and until we have at least some idea of the scope and nature of the risks, EVERYTHING is a movie plot threat. And nothing is.

     

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  48.  
    identicon
    New Mexico Mark, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 1:58pm

    Re: Re: Stockpile

    That idea got me thinking, too. For instance, what if "some assembly required" kits were delivered with all the needed tools in a little kit. You can either keep the kit or repack it, scan in a code, and a drone picks it up within a few minutes. You get some money refunded, and the tools are put back in service.

    And yes, I agree there is a balance among speed, convenience, and cost, but this technology has the potential to make some significant shifts in how we do things.

     

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  49.  
    identicon
    New Mexico Mark, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 2:06pm

    Re: 1 reason it'll never work - not economical

    Of course, the cost of powering a multi-ton vehicle with diminishing fossil fuel resources to carry a one-pound package to a destination will always be cheaper than a few-pound electrically powered device. Hmmm.... Have you really thought this through?

    Besides, there is nothing preventing some helicopter-like design tweaks to get significant lift from forward velocity. This would have some other advantages like the ability to make a semi-controlled descent to a safe(r) location in case of main power or multiple rotor failures.

     

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  50.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 2:24pm

    Re:

    No, we didn't. The Soviet economy was nothing like what's being described here.

     

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  51.  
    icon
    Khaim (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 2:31pm

    Re: Fuel

    Who said anything about fuel? These things are going to be electric.

     

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  52.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 2:35pm

    There's a lot of techno-utopianism in this thread. Has no one heard of the Rebound Effect or Jevon's Paradox.

     

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  53.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 3:16pm

    Re:

    There's a lot of techno-utopianism in this thread. Has no one heard of the Rebound Effect or Jevon's Paradox.


    I don't think any of that impacts anything said here.

    That said, my favorite story about Stanley Jevons, by the way, is that when he died, he had an entire room in his home filed, floor to ceiling, with paper. He believed that the world was going to run out of it.

    Related to that, by the way: Jevons is a useful warning for those who bet against techno utopianism. Based on his work, he believed that, in part because of the Jevons Paradox, the world was in serious trouble in 1860, noting that the world would soon run out of coal, and the source of wealth and improvement would soon go away. Almost immediately after that, oil was discovered...

     

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  54.  
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    nasch (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 4:06pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    But this is all just the beginning. A competent attacker won't just use one drone: they'll use many...

    The only reason this could be a concern is if drones would be a substantially more effective attack vector than something else. I'm not seeing it - with the tiny amount of explosives a drone could carry (or the even tinier kinetic energy) it seems like the van full of fertilizer is still a way bigger threat. The only exception would be targets that aren't accessible to public street traffic. Is it possible one of those could be attacked? Sure, but is it really worth banning drones because of that fear? I guess in the US these days it's worth banning almost anything out of fear.

     

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  55.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 4:08pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Building weapon systems is tedious, error-prone, expensive, risky, and generally hard. Having someone else build them for you and then furnish them to you at zero cost is far more effective.

    They would still have to get explosives, which hasn't gotten any easier. And if you're talking about terrorists operating inside the US with easy access to high explosives, I think drones are the least of our problems.

     

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  56.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 4:11pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    While not as easy as C# on Windows in Visual Studio (nothing is),

    Blech, Visual Studio...

     

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  57.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 4:11pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    In other more not so nice terms, you're full of shit until you prove otherwise.

    Whatever is full of shit? I'm shocked. Shocked, I tell you!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  58.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 4:14pm

    Re: 1 reason it'll never work - not economical

    There's 1 big reason why all these delivery drone ideas will never become commercially viable,

    People who say "this will never work" so often end up looking stupid later...

     

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  59.  
    icon
    John85851 (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 4:16pm

    We need to get into a borrowing society

    I think the bigger issue is what's being briefly mentioned: the thinking behind stockpiling and sharing. We're all guilty of this: how many people buy 4 or more boxes of cereal because it's on sale? How many people buy cereal they only sort-of like simply because it's on sale? And like the drill, how many buy tools that they rarely use.

    There have been plenty of ideas to start borrowing/ sharing programs where people can rent a drill for a project and give it back, but people seem to think it's better to buy a drill that they'll barely use instead of renting it.

    So maybe Google's drones may not get off the ground, but maybe this will help move society towards a more "we don't really need to buy this if we can borrow it" attitude.

     

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  60.  
    icon
    Ellie (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 5:46pm

    Re: We need to get into a borrowing society...We do?

    There isn't anything wrong with "stockpiling" cereal. As long as you eat it, it is a discounted bulk purchase, and nothing to feel guilty over. Well, if there aren't food shortages! As for renting power tools, great idea! I think Home Depot and small non-chain hardware stores used to offer that.

    Most of the sharing economy so far seems to enrich a tiny number of middle men who own the distribution platform, with inconsistent or questionable benefit to users/customers. I do NOT see Google in that role though.

     

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  61.  
    icon
    OldMugwump (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 5:59pm

    Re: outside of their core businesses they are generally failures

    Sure, I know what you mean!

    All that crazy stuff about writing their own web browser - who is going to use that? IE is going to have 90% of the market forever (unless Firefox takes some of it).

    And remember when they said they were going to compete against Apple in smartphones? Crazy again, no way they'll even get 10% market share.

    And then they said they were going to design their own cloud-based laptops and compete against Microsoft? No way anybody will buy any of those.

    And the time they were going to introduce an email service? Ha.

    And - I heard they want to make their own maps of the whole world! How will that ever pay, I can't imagine.

    Yup, all of Google's attempts to branch out into new businesses are doomed to complete failure.

     

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  62.  
    icon
    OldMugwump (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 6:09pm

    Re:

    I had no idea that in the Soviet Union when you needed an electric drill, you just told your wristwatch that you wanted one, and 120 seconds later a flying robot would drop out of the sky and hand it to you.

    If so, Soviet technology is vastly underappreciated.

     

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  63.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 30th, 2014 @ 2:03am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "They would still have to get explosives, which hasn't gotten any easier."

    Yes, you have to be 16 years old to buy gas

     

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  64.  
    identicon
    Rich Kulawiec, Aug 30th, 2014 @ 2:44am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "The only reason this could be a concern is if drones would be a substantially more effective attack vector than something else. I'm not seeing it - with the tiny amount of explosives a drone could carry (or the even tinier kinetic energy) it seems like the van full of fertilizer is still a way bigger threat."

    A van full of fertilizer is not going to be positioned directly in the flight path of a commercial airliner 12 seconds after takeoff. It's not necessary for a swarm of drones in that position to be carrying any explosive or significant kinetic energy; see "bird strike".

     

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  65.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 30th, 2014 @ 5:50am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    How big do you want your drone, a V1 size is not impossible for an individual, or small group to build, including a pulse jet engine. With modern flight control, it does not have to be stable in flight, making design and development easier. All it needs to be is a flying fuel tank to cause a major fire if it flew through a window or door. The computational power to achieve this is readily available, and modern materials would make construction relatively easy, and the engine is very simple to build.
    It says something for the makers of the world that such devices have not been built and used, but then such people do not usually want to impose their will on others, unlike those who go into management and politics.

     

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  66.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 30th, 2014 @ 7:52am

    Re: Re: outside of their core businesses they are generally failures

    "
    And the time they were going to introduce an email service? Ha."


    Yes, GMail exists, but it's a piece of shit used exclusively by gullible and naive morons who don't know any better.

     

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  67.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), Aug 31st, 2014 @ 7:55am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Yes, you have to be 16 years old to buy gas

    Gasoline is great for starting fires, but it's not a particularly powerful explosive.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  68.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), Aug 31st, 2014 @ 7:57am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    A van full of fertilizer is not going to be positioned directly in the flight path of a commercial airliner 12 seconds after takeoff. It's not necessary for a swarm of drones in that position to be carrying any explosive or significant kinetic energy; see "bird strike".

    If nobody is paying attention to what is happening around the airport that would work. Fortunately, there are controllers that would stop everything if a swarm of drones were hovering around the end of a runway.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  69.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), Aug 31st, 2014 @ 8:03am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    How big do you want your drone, a V1 size is not impossible for an individual, or small group to build, including a pulse jet engine.

    The cost/benefit would only make sense for a small number of targets. Terrorists usually go after easy, high-impact targets. I can think of three terrorist attacks against well-defended targets. One used a truck, and the other two hijacked aircraft.

    Just to be clear I'm not saying it's not possible to have a terrorist attack with one of these. I'm just saying it's not something to worry about, because the difficulty of getting small, cheap drones is not the factor that's keeping terrorists from using them. Therefore the increasing availability will not result in a an increase in terrorist attacks. They might happen, but it would be attacks that terrorists would make anyway, just using a different technology.

     

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  70.  
    identicon
    Sambo, Aug 31st, 2014 @ 4:16pm

    turkey shoot

    The real reason this will never 'get off the ground' is that 100's of privately owned, camera equipped drones flying over peoples private proprty will likely not be tolerated by a lot of people.

    You yanks love your guns, I imagine a lot of moving target shooting practice would be the result.

     

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  71.  
    icon
    MrTroy (profile), Aug 31st, 2014 @ 11:12pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    The point is that -- so far -- nobody seems to have undertaken a comprehensive study of the risks, whether their source is architecture, design, operation, fabrication, environment, third parties or anything else. Until that work is done, and until we have at least some idea of the scope and nature of the risks, EVERYTHING is a movie plot threat. And nothing is.
    Funny story. Undertaking a comprehensive study of the risks of a system looks absolutely nothing like trying to enumerate everything that can go wrong. That would be more like undertaking an empirical study of the risks, and is guaranteed to miss everything you can't think of.

    The problem with movie plot threats is *not* that they aren't possible, it's that it's not worth protecting against a particular threat unless the protection offers broad benefits.

    Armour-plated rotors protect against the single group of threats of the rotors being damaged by some projectile... a rotor system that survives loss of all but one rotor, or loss of power, or sudden turbulence, and glides to the ground at a much lower than terminal velocity - that protects against great swathes of threats.

     

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  72.  
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    MrTroy (profile), Aug 31st, 2014 @ 11:21pm

    Re: Re: Re: flying bombs

    Yes, they (the bad guys) could do it now with vans or cars or baby carriages or anything else, but none of those things fly.
    And that makes drones more effective weapons why? Are flying things naturally scarier? What does flying allow a drone to attack that those other conveyances can't? Consider that baby carriages can be taken in elevators.

    Also none of those things come equipped with remote control systems that feature baked-in miserable security.
    So an explosive drone can be hijacked, and re-routed to a safe area with nobody around to land? That actually sounds awesome!

    I'm not sure how much it matters if a non-explosive drone is hijacked.

    That doesn't meant that drones are a bad idea. It does mean that some very serious thinking, designing, implementation and testing needs to go into them before they're permitted.
    A quick look around the web shows me a huge community of amateur drone flyers in many countries. I think all that's not permitted at the moment is commercial use... or as others have already commented multiple times, if this is a threat then it already exists, and allowing commercial use will not increase the threat (of attack by drones) at all. It may be a bad idea for other reasons, but not for the reasons you're trying to push.

     

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  73.  
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    MrTroy (profile), Aug 31st, 2014 @ 11:24pm

    Re: Re: Re: outside of their core businesses they are generally failures

    As opposed to hotmail...

     

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  74.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 1st, 2014 @ 2:02am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Keep shitting away, it's about the only productive behavior you know.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  75.  
    identicon
    Michael, Sep 2nd, 2014 @ 10:40am

    Re: Re:

    Well, we spend a million dollars developing a pen that will work in zero gravity - and they use a pencil.

    They weren't total idiots.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  76.  
    icon
    MrTroy (profile), Sep 2nd, 2014 @ 6:50pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Yeah! Except... no, that actually never happened.

    http://www.snopes.com/business/genius/spacepen.asp

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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