You might imagine drones blowing things up or spying on enemies. But they could soon fill the skies for commercial use, delivering everyday items like mail and pizza. But first, Congress must act.
WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- When you order delivery, something online from Ebay.com or a pizza from up the street, part if not all of that delivery is made on the ground, driven to you by a person.
Matthew Sweeny, founder and CEO of Flirtey, an unmanned aircraft company in Australia, sees a different road for the future.
"I think we're very rapidly moving in a direction where this technology will become ubiquitous and seeing unmanned aircraft or Flirteys making deliveries will be no different to seeing a UPS courier on the street," he said after a presentation at Postal Vision 2020, a business conference in D.C. that aims to reinvent the landscape of the postal business.
The unmanned aircraft that Sweeny is talking about are not the drones that you may be thinking of - instruments of warfare, taking off from military installations, spying on and attacking enemies.
Sweeny stresses that these would be instruments of commerce, delivering food or goods to your home or directly to you wherever you are. The drones would be able to locate you through the GPS program on your smart phone device.
"They take off with the goods that you've purchased online, fly at an altitude that's below commercial airspace so there's very low risk of them colliding with commercial aircraft and then they lower the package to your location," Sweeny said.
The commercial drones would be pre-programmed with a flight path and equipped with collision-avoidance technology.
John Callan founded Postal Vision 2020. He insisted that commercial drones could kick-start the struggling postal service.
"They can cut the costs down dramatically. We've heard as little as 24 cents or a dollar to do a drone delivery as opposed to well over a dollar or a couple of dollars for a postal delivery," Callan said.
The commercial drones are already delivering emergency services in the U.S. as police departments and first responders are beginning to adopt the technology.
"You could imagine unmanned aero vehicles delivering life vests to people drowning faster than lifesavers could get to them at the beach. You could imagine deliveries of deliberators and other emergency medical supplies as they're needed," pointed out Sweeny. "This is definitely the way of the future."
A future, he added, that the U.S. is not yet a part of as Congress is several years away from legalizing commercial use of the unmanned aircrafts.
"At this stage the rest of the world is ahead of the United States in the development and adoption of this technology," Sweeny said. "The United States is the investment capital of the world and the tech capital of the world and yet we're on the precipice of the emergence of a new industry and the regulatory environment in this country is such that won't allow it to emerge."
As it emerges, Sweeny admitted that it will likely also eliminate some existing jobs, primarily of couriers and delivery persons. But, Sweeny added, this new industry will also deliver new opportunities.
"We're hiring," Sweeny said, only slightly joking.