Psst. You might want to install a landing pad on your property. Perhaps one with a trapdoor that leads to a storage compartment (patents pending).


Why, to prepare for the wave of retail drone deliveries you'll soon be receiving. Or one day will be. At this point the concept is more like a series of ripples, though there are enough of them now to warrant attention.

Drones already have been used for such purposes on a small scale. An example is a pilot program launched by Walgreens last year in Christiansburg, Va., population 22,500. Last month, though, remote-retailing behemoth Amazon received a key Federal Aviation Administration approval that will allow it to expand testing. Walmart, FedEx, DHL, UPS and Alphabet (which you know as Google) also have various plans to get in on this action. We're probably forgetting someone. It probably involves pizza.

So it's going to happen on a broader scale. "Exactly when" and "exactly how much" are what's left to be determined.

A question you might ask, then, as a citizen and consumer: Who benefits? Do corporations? Does society? Do I?

First things first. You'll benefit from getting quick, on-demand deliveries. Amazon's hope is to set down a package of 5 pounds or fewer in half an hour or less within 15 miles of a distribution center. It would have loved to have been doing this years before now. The advancement could lower the cost of moving a product the "last mile." Also, juice the number of purchases.

As far as societal costs and benefits, it's more complicated. Can drones operate safely in urban environments? (An Amazon video shows one avoiding a dog in a yard and even detecting a clothesline.) Can all those individual deliveries really save energy over the use of trucks, which offer an economy of scale? (Only if there are multiple distribution hubs to limit flight distance, according to modeling by the RAND Corporation.) Will drones be too noisy? (Surprisingly, they could blend in with the sounds of a city, assays RAND. It depends on design improvements, frequency, altitude and attitudes.)

And one might ask: If drones prove capable of this task, where will it end? Why shouldn't every small business deploy them as needed, directly or via partnership? The local skies could be filled with items in transit, and despite the fact that you were promised jet packs, you won't be one of them.

It's not hard to imagine the governmental challenges this will present. It's something to start considering. Thanks for your attention. As you whir.