Of all the inspiring technology that we have seen released and announced in recent years, the product that has me most excited by far is Amazon’s Octocopters.
But it’s not so much the idea of having a sub-2.3 kg package delivered via a drone in 30 minutes that has me excited. It’s thinking about what a version 6 of this technology might be, and the impact that could have on society at large.
Let’s assume Amazon (or any number of other companies) make this technology viable (a challenge), and receive the appropriate regulatory approvals (likely a much larger challenge). This technology proves disruptive, and improves rapidly in subsequent years.
Now lets assume a future iteration is capable of safely carrying much heavier loads, say 500 kg or more. And because these drones have proved so safe and successful delivering packages, regulatory approval for allowing people to be carried in these crafts is eventually granted.
Imagine the impact that will have on the world. It’s very easy to picture an Uber style Octocopter system right? Assuming this, the need for car ownership in so many neighborhoods would dramatically plummet. Why go through the hassle of owning, insuring and maintaining a car when a cheaper, safer and faster alternative is just a click away?
So many sprawling suburbias across the globe that currently require a car would no longer need them. The impact this alone would have on suburban life can’t be overstated.
Consider the average frontage of a middle-class suburban house — a significant number of them are designed around the requirement of having a 2 car garage at the front of the property. Suddenly this constraint would no longer apply. Houses that are newly built would start to look different. Many existing homes with internal garages would instantly have more usable space available (hello Media room).
When less cars are on the road, there will obviously be less fossil fuels being consumed.
And with less cars on the road, there is less need for roads themselves. Now you’re looking at an influx of available land that modern-day society has basically written off to this point.
Ripping up all existing roads is almost certainly untenable, but many would surely no longer be necessary, or could at least see their width reduced. Dedicated car parks could almost certainly be done away with. This reclaimed land could be used for parks, bike tracks, further residential and commercial buildings, etc.
Reducing society’s reliance on roads has the potential to reduce the pressing need for massive spending by governments and the private sector on roads, bridges and the like ($40 billion over 6 years for roads alone in Australia at the Federal level alone — state/private governments will spend more). Underdeveloped nations held back by their lack of road infrastructure would be liberated.
Oh, and because these vehicles no longer must travel on land, there is tremendous opportunity to largely get rid of traffic, because having vehicles fly at different heights will negate the need for stopping to allow traffic from another direction to pass.
I’m not saying this will be straightforward, or happen overnight. Or even happen it all. Perhaps regulatory approvals will prove such an issue that ideas such as Octocopters will be killed before they can roll out (although that would likely hasten the founding of Larry Page Island or similar).
But personally, I find a future involving safe, flying vehicles very exciting to think about.