A couple of weeks ago I wrote abut Amazon using drones for light package delivery, and I raised a few doubts about it’s viability. Well, that musing garnered a response from a fellow that I have known and respected for more than 30 years. While I do not have a copy of Ira Wilner’s CV, I can tell you that this broadcast engineer knows his stuff. He is legend in Vermont broadcast circles. Decades ago when I was in need of an alternative to an expensive recording studio, I asked Ira if it was possible to use a computer for that purpose. Without missing a beat he said "Yes" and proceeded to give me a list of the components I needed. It took a year of scrimping and saving, but when I had come up with all the goods he graciously got it all working for one of the first computer-based recording studios in the region. It was ground breaking stuff, and if you think I’m going to doubt what he says about the viability of Jeff Bezos drone delivery concept, well, it ain’t happenin’. I place my vote on Wilner.
I can’t possibly condense and translate everything Ira said in his response to me in this limited space, but here are a few excerpts, with Mr. Wilner’s permission: "When I first saw the demo video of the Amazon Prime Air customer delivery option I almost cried! I said, YES! We’ve had all the necessary technology for the past few years to make it happen. All, and I mean ALL of the problems have been solved, except for the political one’s involving the FAA, paranoid humans and of course the weather.
"Using DGPS (differential GPS) with a master station at each warehouse, each drone could autonomously steer itself to land on a veritable dime, one centimeter accuracy! Communication outages including GPS interference isn’t an issue when you have onboard MEMS (micro machined) inertial guidance systems. Think micro-sized gyroscopes and accelerometers on a chip.
"Millimeter wavelength radar beams would provide collision avoidance. Optical recognition would further augment GPS for sighting the target and avoiding power lines and other obstacles that might be too new to have made it into the mapping database being updated by Google as a subcontract.
"Low-flying delivery systems would be restricted to specific altitudes and locations not in conflict with general aviation. And every manned helicopter would be equipped with current state-of-the art digital transponders providing detailed flight information to global servers so that the drones could avoid them and visa-versa. This public transponder technology is already in place and about 20 percent of all aircraft are presently outfitted with them."
Ira went on to say that the transponders will be universal, by law, in just a few years. He also said that the drones would be equipped with cameras, and any attempts at vandalism would be filmed and coordinated with Google Earth to pinpoint the origin of the attack. I still think you could take one out with a 12 gauge shotgun from a duck blind, but honestly, who in their right mind would even attempt such an idiotic stunt. I’m guessing that the criminal penalties would make shooting an American Bald Eagle more appealing.
I’ve always been fascinated by technology, even when I don’t fully understand it. This particular technology seems extremely complex and will certainly require a lot of testing before it is fully instituted, but I’m certain that Ira is correct, it can be done on a large scale. Additionally, the energy and pollution savings will be huge, and that alone is reason enough to try. The implications of what this could mean for society in general can truly stretch one’s imagination, and Orwellian fantasies (or nightmares) of total surveillance send chills up the spine. That being said, I hope that both Ira and I are around in 10 years to see if this came to fruition. Until then, let’s all drone on.
Arlo Mudgett’s Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT FM Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m.