Delivery Drones Might Not Be Coming Soon

It seems like every week we hear another report about how drones are the future of home delivery service. From pizza to pills to anything almost Amazon sells, companies are seriously exploring having drones deliver to your front lawn, and they promise the service will be available soon. But if we have drones, and we have the GPS technology to tell them where we want something delivered, why isn’t this service up and running already? Well, the answer is something notoriously fickle and hard to predict: the weather.

Specifically, wind patterns and changes in air pressure on a minute scale. Given sensors and advanced mapping technology, drones can actually pilot themselves to deliver items, but they can easily get thrown off course (and, sometimes, out of the air) when weather conditions aren’t ideal and change suddenly. Getting precise and minute-to-minute weather predictions is within our current technological power. After all, we can put weather sensors on drones themselves, and that coupled with weather sensors on the ground and information from the National Weather Service can get pretty accurate results. However, the cost of gathering and relaying this information is expensive, perhaps prohibitively so.

Each sensor for a drone would be roughly $2,500, and that’s only for the parts. Considering that an urban area would need several of these drones in the air to gain an accurate view of the weather patterns over the city, this could get quite costly. Also, cities tend to create a difficult airscape to navigate; tall buildings create wind tunnels and canyons can make whirlpools of air. Also, the uneven distribution of shade and heated concrete creates heat waves that can jar a drone midair. These aren’t unsolvable problems, but they each will cost extra money for businesses looking to use drones to deliver their products. And in the end, that means we consumers might have to wait a little longer for our pizza to be delivered in the air!