Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVS), or drones, are one of the inventions helping to shape the way we live our lives in the early part of the 21st century. Their emergence has been startling and mind-bogglingly rapid.
They have been embraced by the military and by photographers, and are already adding a new element to life on – or above – the road for many grey nomads. It has been suggested that future grey nomads will travel with them as a way of finding out in advance about traffic conditions, or about space available at certain caravan parks or national parks.
As regulators race to keep up with the multitude of new uses being considered for drones, another potential grey nomad ‘game changer’ has suddenly become a realistic possibility. Australia Post has just announced that it is to trial the use of drones for package deliveries as early as next year. The drones, which will cost $10,000 each, will initially allow packages of up to 2kg to be delivered but this may soon be raised to 10kg. During the trial, packages will be delivered over just 25 kilometres, but the strong expectation is that people either living – or travelling – in remote and regional locations will benefit the most from the new service.
The move by Australian Post follows similar drone trials by Singapore Post and Amazon. And, in Europe, Swiss Post, believes drones will be being regularly used to deliver packages to isolated locations in about five years. Experts believe the various regulatory challenges and technical restrictions, such as short battery life, will be overcome as the scale of potential uses becomes more evident.
The optimism is equally evident here, with the Operations Manager at Queensland University of Technology’s aerospace automation research centre, Andrew Keir, telling media that parcel-carrying drones will soon be seen in regional skies.
“It’s an interesting move and one that has captured the imagination of many global companies” he said. “I think in
the next 12 months we will see more extensive trials in rural and remote areas as Australia Post works through with Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) to become a certified operator to do it in the commercial sense.”
Mr Keir said it would take Australia Post time to determine what drones would work best in different locations.
“They need to find where that sweet spot may meet their commercial intent in terms of the type of things they are delivering and over what distances,” he said.
So, could grey nomads sitting around a campfire in the Kimberley soon be disturbed by a surprise visit from a drone carrying birthday gifts from loved ones at home? And will in-vehicle GPS effectively mean the ‘postman’ could deliver anytime anywhere? Only time will tell.