So we’ve all heard about how Amazon is interested in using delivery drones. This has led to everything from your inevitable “will it take off” jokes, to eBay’s CEO mocking the idea, to UPS and Fedex talking about their own drone delivery plans. We’re all talking drones, and not just the whole military-controversy thing that’s been around for a few years, but about them becoming part of our lives.
I don’t think we’ll have drones in 4-5 years as Bezos expected, or said, or hoped for, or trolled (depending on what you think). But the interest in drones plays into something larger that I want to address, because it affects geek careers. The interest in drones isn’t new, it’s just the manifestation of the trends I’ve been following geek job-wise for awhile.
The “drone thing” is part of the overall trend towards more automation. And that gives us some career hints that are useful for we geeks.
An Old Hat Slightly Redone
Drone delivery really isn’t much different than anything else automated. It’s an extension of plenty of other robotic systems such as sorting, packaging, and even vending machines. In fact, that vending machine factor is something I always return to, and something I keep covering.
Needless to say, time for me to return to the subject.
I see the latest drone fad as nothing more than an extension of our already continuing love affair with automation. It now just add door-to-door deliver to the sorting, packaging, shipping, and manfuacturing automation we’re used to. Admittedly door-to-door delivery by a faceless machine with whirling blades, but door-to-door (or something close) nonetheless.
Really, it’s no different than anything else we’ve seen in automation. We have automated pizza, automated coffee, Shop24, and of course good old RedBox. Why shouldn’t delivery be next?
Drones just stand out because they sound really cool. Actually that’s the only reason they stand out. Well, that and a few issues . . .
Droning On About Problems
Let me be blunt; I don’t think we’re going to see a successful wide-spread drone delivery program in the next few years. I can’t say “never”, but let us say I can’t conclude they’re going to be some world-changing addition to our shipping economy at least in their current form and in the current economic state. In implementing drone delivery, I see the following issues:
- In the words of Lewis Black there’s “eight razor-sharp reasons they can’t be used as delivery vehicles.” Building on his observation of the safety issues of a small, mobile gathering of whirling propellors traveling about, there’s also questions of malfunctions, crashes, short-outs, and more on something flying around. Making these things safe will be tough.
- FAA regulation, law enforcement, and government. People won’t be tame about unmanned, remote aircraft zooming around. There’s going to be lots of regulation at the very least, and that will change when . . .
- The inevitability of malfunction or worse. These are new technologies, zooming through populated areas, using an unpopular idea (drones), and essentially wearing giant “please hack me signs” on their chassis. Something unsavory will happen by accident, prank, or purpose.
- The complexity factor. It’s one thing to deliver a vending machine or automate a shipping line. Adding the maneuvering of an object through 3D space and the environment into the process adds unpredictability. Amazon is willing to take risks, others may take risks, but this is going to add a lot of risk.
So no, I don’t see drones as the next big thing. But the fact we’re talking about them says something else – we’re just seeing people try to extend automation in the delivery process. That’s what’s important to our careers, drones are just a spectacular part of that wish.
One More Automated Layer
So drone talk aside, what I really take from all of this is we’ve got another area of possible automation going on; automating delivery. That’s what the real story is for our jobs, and what I want to focus on for your careers.
The cat is well out of the bag and has run away on this idea. Google’s got experimental automated cars, Amazon is pushing drones, and we’ve seen many attempts to innovate delivery systems by those whose job is to deliver stuff. Thats where some of we career geeks may want to pay attention.
Because the razor-sharp propellor delivery system of the future aside, if this many companies are looking at Drones or even talking about it, then there’s an acknowledgement that more can be done in the delivery space.
This is where you come in:
- Any attempt to automate delivery is going to need people good at the mechanical. Drones aside, even a better sorting system for a vendor or a better offloading system are important.
- If you’re a coder, look into how automated systems are coded, because there’s going to be more of them.
- On the subject if you are involved in any hands-on or developmental work, start tlooking into automation AI, processes, 3D maneuvering, and more. Because this is an area where a lot can go spectacularly wrong, being able to understand the problem is a career advantage.
- If you’re involved in shipping, handling, receiving, this may not be an issue for awhile, but as it has come up it will be a change in your job eventually.
- If you’re a law geek and involved in policy, I’m not kidding, this is great for you. There’s going to be so many legal, compliance, and safety issues your knowledge is going to be needed.
- Into training, tech writing, and documentation? Just imagine how explaining this to people will be, and how your skills will be needed. Just imagine the legal requirements law geeks will find that you’ll have to cover . . .
No, I’m not sold on drones. I am sold that this means more automation in delivery methods – or attempts.
This means opportunities.
I’m going to be watching the Drone trend, but more as part of the larger picture of automated delivery.
Would I base your career on drones and automated delivery? Well I wouldn’t base your career on any on thing – and this area is too unpredictable. But I’d say keep it in mind, especially if it’s up your alley as there is definite potential.
How long that potential lasts, well that’s a question I’m not too sure on . . . but perhaps I’ll come to some conclusions later . . .
– Steven Savage