How Drones Will Change the Way You Eat

Mike Toscano of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (the drone advocacy group—I love DC) recently told Marketplace that drones—aircraft operated by computers, sans onboard pilots—have two specialties: delivery (“tacos, beer”) and situational awareness, or checking things out. The food world is ripe for both services.

First, on the delivery side, in case you thought the months-long rumors were just a publicity stunt, Amazon last week requested Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval to fly drones for shipments. The drones’ cargo will surely include, but surely not be limited to, groceries and prepared meals. Industry observers believe that Amazon created AmazonFresh’s same-day food delivery service to stoke demand for same-day delivery of other, more traditionally Amazonian items consumers don’t need immediately, like swim goggles and televisions. Then once consumers get used to drones whizzing through the air, dropping packages of just-ordered items on doorsteps, the public will become a whole lot more accepting of unmanned aerial vehicles. Public support for the commercial use of drones will skyrocket (that is, until the eggs or the television drop from just a foot too high).

The brilliance of AmazonFresh is that from its inception it offered not just groceries (which was plenty mind-blowing for those of us still astonished by the variety of companies competing to take over our weekly trips to the store) but products from local specialty stores and restaurant delivery, as well as books and electronics. It offers an addictively easy app with searchable recipes linked to one-click ordering with all items automatically added to your shopping cart. Currently available only in parts of Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Francisco for an annual fee of $299, Bezos is expanding the service in 2014, according to his 2013 letter to Amazon shareowners.

Fittingly, Amazon is putting its reputation on the line by venturing to be one of the first purely commercial users of unmanned aircraft that the FAA will authorize in 2015 when it opens Americans skies to business drones. Although one can expect the company to access the best in drone technology controlled by onboard computers, drones have a dangerous pallor. Four hundred U.S. military drones have fallen from the sky in accidents since 2001, causing some to joke nervously whether some of those television sets will land on people. Drones could further exacerbate the transformation of the technology divide into a health-threatening food divide between haves and have-nots, although this is avoidable with the kind of foresight Amazon’s owner is famous for. Any commercial drone campaign must be partnered with an excellent PR campaign.

How Drones Will Change the Way You Eat

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