Drone Deliveries as Publicity Stunts

Photograph by David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

An attendee shoots video of a Parrott Mini Drone during the CES Unveiled press event in Las Vegas on Jan. 5, 2014.

If there’s a quick route to media attention these days, it involves drones.

First, Amazon.com unveiled a proposal on CBS’s “60 Minutes” to deliver packages via small unmanned copters. Lakemaid Beer of Wisconsin became a darling of the Internet last month after releasing a video showing beer deliveries to people fishing on a frozen lake.

And just before Valentine’s Day, a Commerce, Michigan, florist unveiled a similar video of a six-rotor copter dropping off flowers on a doorstep.

Even though the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration stepped in to inform the would-be droners that such commercial uses aren’t permitted, their PR missions were accomplished.

One thing that hasn’t gotten as much publicity is how unfeasible such technology is — at least for now.

While small drone copters are increasingly capable, no one has come up with the technology that would assure they won’t decapitate someone’s flower bed, terrorize a dog in the yard or worse, says Patrick Egan, a drone advocate and editor at SUASNEWS.com.

“It’s just a publicity stunt,” Egan said. “It’s not really feasible. It’s not legal. It’s unsafe.”

And while the FAA is moving toward permitting commercial drone use, it has said the technology favored by these three examples — having the drone guide itself with GPS instead of a costly employee at the controls to spot and avoid hazards — won’t be permitted.

Wesley Berry, chief executive officer of FlowerDeliveryExpress.com, said the flower delivery-by-drone was an experiment that failed on several tries before a bouquet actually made it to the test subject’s doorstep.

“Our situation wasn’t something that could be repeated in a significant manner, that’s for sure,” he said.

While Berry is confident the technology will improve someday, there’s also another stumbling block: “The costs are prohibitive.”

Consider the flower delivery:

And the beer:

And finally, Egan’s safety concerns:

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