Announced just under a year ago, and still with an eta of ‘sometime 2015ish’, Amazon’s coming drone delivery service Prime Air is poised to be the transformational technology for the city that the Segway was promised to be so many internet years ago.
Since its announcement drones have continued to infect the mainstream memeosphere, moving from geek toy and killer death machine to increasingly filling every gap in between. But once Amazon implements its physical manifestation of “infrastructure-as-a-service”, it’s sure to follow a course similar to that of its backend-code. Like Amazon Web Services (AWS) we can expect to soon see an Amazon Drone Services (ADS).
AWS, essentially synonymous with The Cloud now, or a great chunk of the virtual troposphere at least, emerged as Amazon’s engineers realised that in restructuring the server code required to run its retail business, they could also provide an additional revenue stream by offering the same services to outside companies.
ADS is guaranteed to follow the same path. Initially an internal tool to facilitate its retail business, once established its drone network infrastructure is sure to be offered as a service to external entities. And that’s where things start to get interesting.
Where AWS has been instrumental in providing the world with a kind of global nervous system, the coming ADS enables the creation of a musculature able to act upon the world and form a vital core of the vision of something far more grand than just an internet-of-things.
It contains the promise of a coming cyborg planet. The slow assemblage of mech suit for Gaia.
Known to some already as “augmented ecology” (see http://augmentedecology.com/): a just-in-time delivery for an ecosystem on the brink of collapse.
Apart from the occasional incident like a shark biting an undersea cable, the Cloud hasn’t had too many problems integrating with the occupants of the physical, natural world. But when the internet becomes manifest, short of Total SkyNet, it has to deal with the incumbent players. Which means all sorts of legal wrangling over sharing the airspace with planes, and privacy issues involved in flying over residential and commercial areas. And also freaking Hawks and other birds of prey taking issue with these noisy (for now) airborne intruders into their territory. Everyone was worried about people below shooting them down, but it turns out there may be another threat that can’t be so easily policed; outlaw avians.
The solution? Build a bigger boat. And make it biomemetic. In fact, don’t just play at being a part of nature, go for full integration and solve those messy legal problems at the same time.
Haast’s Eagle, now extinct, and once the apex predator of New Zealand until the arrival of humans, is the largest bird to have ever flown the skies. A delivery drone that takes its shape and forms that outline in the sky will not be attacked by a lesser predator, even if it’s not already wired into their genetic memory. Eyle’s Harrier and the Swamp Harrier offer two other design options for suitable locales. But by simply adopting this morphology the likelihood of injuries… repairs being required to the drones from natural causes are greatly diminished.
These resurrected eagles don’t just make the perfect branding for a “donkey in the sky” – Haast’s Eagle was able to carry a Moa weighing 250kg – as J.M. Ledgard (@eternaut) enumerates in his excellent Medium post Build cargo drones, get rich rapidly growing and urbanising Africa is the perfect place to build out a drone network as a supplementary transport system.
I anticipate three phases to the technology. In Phase 1, starting in 2016, drones will serve hospitals and humanitarian emergencies — life air not prime air, starting with the better distribution of blood from blood banks to clinics. Other early adopters will use donkeys to deliver small payloads to government offices, mines, oil and gas installations, ranches and conservancies. In Phase 2, industrial sweetspots to cities such as the spare parts industry in southeast Nigeria will be connected to cities by donkey routes— just as the Liverpool and Manchester railway connected the first city of the industrial age with the Atlantic. These routes will serve the new solutions demanded by a sharing economy, such as where customers opt for rental and servicing of machinery rather than outright purchase. Companies of building and mining equipment will stock their large inventory of spare parts using donkeys carrying 10 kilo payloads. Phase 1 and 2 would be enough to make the donkeys a useful contributor. But the real reason for the technology is Phase 3, where donkeys will better connect businesses with customers right across Africa.
One vital service he left out was ecological. Ecological services is one of the ReWilding ideas Karl Schroeder imagined in his 2009 presentation , and with the rivers in Great Britain now able to tweet their status, this vision is finally slowly becoming reality. (Whether the whales will start blogging soon, remains to be seen.)
Probably the least charismatic fauna is the Vulture, yet they are now appreciated for the role the play as ‘keystone’ scavengers “playing a critical role in nutrient cycling”. But these vital creatures performing a necessary service are under threat of extinction, having been baited and otherwise killed, mostly by farmers. One strategy to revive their populations is the Vulture Restaurant, an approach used in Pakistan, India, Nepal and South Africa. Providing “vultures with clean carcasses saw a doubling of nesting pairs in just two years”.
Just the kind of additional service a company could offer when negotiating over airspace rights in the very regions its likely to deploy in; connecting inner city butchers and local farmers with rangers to support the resuscitation of a dying ecosystem. Something that will allow it get those tourist dollars from visits to see its more photogenic predatorial megafauna; lions and tigers, oh my… giant eagle shaped drones overhead!
Alternatively, servicing the upscale vertical forests of Milan. Or connecting people and urban gardens, or offshore vertical farms, with an automated service combining something like RipeNearMe and the classic internet-of-plants tech, Botanicalls.
Such gardens being serviced by the newly deployed self-driving car network that moonlights as a night soil man. Another contract closing clause to be added for favelas, refugee camp cum instant cities and ancient metropolises without a legacy plumbing infrastructure, but all with a shared need for a sustainable, methane-based power system.
From which all the various drone species could recharge.
And the cyborg cities gains a better circulatory system. The human parasites… residents gain a healthier lifestyle, with access to hyperlocal produce, cleaner air and a diminished urban heat island effect.
Overall, not a bad pay-off from a package delivery system that will suit everyone from preppers hiding from an imminent super-ebola outbreak, internet shut-ins, or the new next-nature elven class of technomads, able to subsist on their #everydaycarry and strategic dead drops.
These are just a few ideas of what will be possible in the urban-scale cyborg future that Amazon’s Prime Air, Google’s Project Wing and their imitators are soon to usher in. Especially if the implementers choose to go the Dark Extropian way.
This has been The Dark Extropian Report. In this instance, a look beyond the more standard narrative for the future of drones that involves criminal repurposement and terrorist adaptation of technology and into a wider, weirder, darker future from which the light will shine.