E-commerce industries in ASEAN explore replicating drone delivery success.
From flying waiter-machines that serve food with all the enthusiasm of its biped counterparts in restaurants to, more controversially, killer robots, the rapid development and pervasiveness of drones in cutting-edge industries and personal use has become impossible to dismiss.
Fast, highly efficient delivery of a high volume of small packages.
Lightweight and completely autonomous, drones are ideal for e-commerce delivery where a high volume of small packages need to be delivered to multiple different locations. The fully automated drones able to circumvent traffic to fly directly to their destination using less fuel energy to do so and more quickly – all without a human operator.
In December 2016, Amazon UK made the first drone delivery when Prime Air delivered its first order of an Amazon Fire TV and a bag of popcorn to a home near Cambridge, UK.
The system was capable of delivering packages weighing up to approximately 2.5kg in ranges within 30 minutes of its depot (around 12km), circumventing traffic and flying directly to its delivery site faster and more efficiently than a rider on a scooter.
The success has convinced Amazon to put its plans to build a fleet of delivery drones into full-throttle.
In Malaysia, that success is being replicated as evidenced by the first drone delivery test flight by Lazada in April could spark a race by e-commerce platforms in Malaysia and around the region to adopt the disruptive tech in an effort to remain competitive.
The drones can also be programmed to allow only the recipients of the purchases to receive their packages. In March 2016, Singapore’s SingPost performed a trial run using a drone to deliver mail from the mainland to Pulau Ubin.
In this case, the unmanned machine was programmed to only land and allow its package to be picked up by a recipient that provided it with the correct signal via smartphone.
Disadvantages still plaguing drone delivery systems.
Since 2010, e-commerce giant Amazon UK has invested US$8.26 billion into A.I. drones and have pushed the technology far, but low payloads, range and battery life still limit their use – and therefore aren’t going to replace petrol and diesel guzzling delivery trucks and scooters anytime in the near future.
And then there’s the law. In Malaysia, the laws governing the flying of UAVs are defined in the Civil Aviation Regulations 2016 set by Department of Civil Aviation (DCA). For safety reasons, many of the laws are counterproductive to the proliferation of civilian drones in urban areas – a crash into a crowded area may result in serious bodily injury and/or property damage.
Low-flying drones may also contribute to noise pollution in an urban area and collide into power lines, property, people and other low-lying obstacles. In addition, the possibility drones losing control in bad weather means that the machines would have to be grounded in those circumstances, causing delays in deliveries.
Social Implications of a robot workforce.
“Not everybody can pass Harvard; we should spend more money on people who are not good at schooling.” – Jack Ma, founder and CEO of Alibaba.
Despite the advantages that drones and robots present, many are worried that the transition will only further shift wealth into the hands of the small elite and leave others marginalized and sprawling in the social gutter.
Low-skilled workers will lose jobs (with retraining often coming out of the pocket of the affected individuals and aggravate their already diminished financial capacity) with older ones unlikely to be eligible for retraining at all.
Affected individuals will also be dependent on the government to create new jobs and industries for them – so perhaps the money spent developing drones should be used to develop people and infrastructure instead.
As Alibaba founder and CEO Jack Ma said in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos 2017, “Not everybody can pass Harvard; we should spend more money on people who are not good at schooling.”
However, a drastic change in government policy – and the public’s heart – could turn the dilemma into an opportunity to improve everyone’s lives. If done right, the wealth generated from a robot workforce (including drones) could generate so much wealth that, if redistributed properly to the lower society, could mean that these individuals would not have to work to foot the bill for basic necessities.