Drones are bad – a roundup of articles from 7-14 January 2017

Drone, by JanBaby at Pixabay. Image in the public domain, CC0.

As Senator Tammy Duckworth found out, not all drones are handled responsibly. Plus, the sector is currently pretty popular, so the week of 7-14 January carried news of one company shutting down and the closure of Google’s internet drone project. Plus there were layoffs in established firms too as well as news of the theft of an expensive device and a negative view of the possibility of routine deliveries by drone in city centres, seemingly an ideal place for such remote markets.

 

TechCrunch reports that the camera drone company Lily has shut down and is in the process of refunding customers[1]. The startup failed to raise additional funding to allow for production and shipping, so the founders decided to admit defeat and wind up the firm. In recent months, while Lily was still fundraising, big-name market players like DJI have developed the same capabilities for their existing drones as Lily was promising with theirs, thus effectively making Lily’s job much more difficult. 100% refunds are set to be issued to customers within 60 days, however.

 

The news was equally bleak for internet giant Google, which announced this week that it would shut its Titan drone project[2]. Google acquired the company three years ago, but like Lily, the solar-powered drones have run into funding difficulties, as well as technical issues. Solar Impulse’s success in circumnavigating the globe – the first flight by a piloted fixed-wing aircraft using only solar power – has led to solar power being high on the agenda this year. Google was hoping to bring a realistic internet connection to remote areas using this energy source, but has now decided to focus on the related Project Loon, which uses balloons instead of drones.

 

The New York Times has an article which complains that ‘Santa Delivered the Drone. But Not the Safety and Skill to Fly Them’[3]. This references the fact that lost, crashed and errant drones hit a peak around this time of year, as many people who happily try to fly them end up unhappily losing them not long after. Like any skill, flying a drone takes time to perfect, and even the experts have mishaps (see Captain Dave’s explanation accompanying the amazing footage on his video Drones Over Dolphin Stampede and Whales off Dana Point and Maui, available on YouTube). The longread article from the NYT goes into detail about the times, places, speeds and heights that drones must observe when being flown in the USA, and makes sobering reading for anyone wanting to play with their new gadget (it is not a toy) right outside their front door.

 

Click2Houston reports that someone was so keen to own and fly a drone that he picked one up from a Texas store and walked out with it[4]. The model sells for around $1,000 at retail value, but on the resale market it is worth double due to its rarity. However, proving that thieving doesn’t really pay, the store’s owners report that the thief didn’t take the charger, so it only has a useful flying life of around 20 minutes.

 

Finally for this roundup, website TheConversation cites the Principal and Vice Chancellor of Heriot-Watt University[5], who states that drones as automated delivery vehicles in cities is unlikely to work as a widespread option. He gives examples such as the potential for near misses with aircraft and the fact that drones are already used for more nefarious enterprises such as flying drugs into prisons to show that our online shopping is likely to be delivered by a man with a van for some time yet.

 

Drones may be the next big thing, but for every winner there is also a loser. These five examples provide ample proof of that, from companies which lose out to individuals who lose their new gadget on the first flight.

 

References:

  1. techcrunch.com/2017/01/11/unable-to-fund-production-of-its-camera-drone-lily-will-shut-down-and-refund-customers/ – Unable to fund production of its camera drone, Lily will shut down and refund customers; TechCrunch; Fitz Tepper; 11 January 2017
  2. bbc.co.uk/news/technology-38596974 – Google confirms end of internet drone project; BBC; Technology staff; 12 January 2017
  3. nytimes.com/2017/01/08/business/drone-safety-risk-popular.html?_r=0 – Santa Delivered the Drone. But Not the Safety and Skill to Fly Them; New York Times; Carol Pogash; 8 January 2017
  4. click2houston.com/news/thief-walks-out-of-store-with-rare-expensive-drone – Thief walks out of store with rare, expensive drone Click2Houston; Jennifer Bauer; 10 January 2017
  5. theconversation.com/drones-delivering-packages-in-cities-wont-take-off-heres-why-71119 – Drones delivering packages in cities won’t take off – here’s why; The Conversation; Richard Andrew Williams, Principal and Vice Chancellor, Heriot-Watt University; 12 January 2017

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