The Future’s Coming And Drones Are Delivering It.

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This week [retail bytes] explores the evolution of drones. Forget about your typical shopping and delivery experience – the little robots are on their way.

Game of Drones:  Ordering something from Amazon? Today it’ll be delivered by a van or a bike courier, who often cart only a single parcel to your ‘hood, creating traffic congestion, not to mention the environmental impact. With European cities getting twitchy about these thousands of extra delivery vehicles on their roads, they’re pushing retailers for alternative solutions. Amazon has entered the drone race and just patented a drone tower – a combo of ‘drone traffic control tower-cum-vertical warehouse’. These towers can exist in densely built-up parts of town, as they’re compact and can replace large, suburban logistics warehouses currently serving Prime deliveries. As the drones are remote-controlled, the Top Gun 2 generation will be operating them not from the towers but from headquarters located well out of town. We reckon Nikola Tesla would be amazed to see how his original invention of remote radio-controlled vehicles is taking over the shopping world.

Up-in-the-air Uber: With all of this Amazon power, there’s one trend that might put a break on their drone domination plans. With over 820,000 drones registered in the US over the last 18 months alone, newly minted amateur pilots will be eyeing a role in the logistics 2.0 setup. Peer-to-peer delivery means that the last mile from the warehouse depot to your house could be picked up by your amateur drone pilot neighbour, optimising delivery schedule. This could be just like an Uber for drones and a nice little earner for entrepreneurial drone enthusiasts, too. It could even help to decrease vehicle congestion in cities, and some flyers might fancy the promotional aspects like the art of drone photography.

The sky’s the limitFootfall for street-to-store traffic conversion measurement is still the Holy Grail of retail metrics as investors and managers alike are hunting for more data to help stores stay competitive and fight off the Amazon behemoth. Drones are tipped to be the new, secure source of accurate footfall data as they’ll be able to fly for days at a time. Securing a permanent drone in a position above Westfield London, for example, will be a juicy deal, as an extra pair of eyes hoovering over the entrances will provide precise numbers, not just the vague estimates we get now. Facial recognition is not on the cards though, as privacy laws quite rightly mean we all get to stay anonymous. We’re expecting the Local Data Company’s Dynamic Location Intel to get you a real-time drone stream with accuracy that’ll beat the fixed street camera counters very soon.

Cruising in Cambridge: Avoiding crashes with all those drones zooming above big cities will be another new challenge. New regulations will require drones to be able to identify themselves electronically to avoid any mid-air problems. The retail expectation is that these drones will first serve suburban locations where deliveries are less dense and (at least initially) safer. Cambridge is where Amazon’s current drones are being tested for commercial purposes so its perimeter is tipped to be the first area where cruising drones could replace bike couriers in pilot runs. But will we be able to tell the drone to leave the parcel next door?

Indoor insights: Delivering parcels not just to your door but also inside the building is on the cards. New generation drones will be useful not just to deliver your books or last-minute-little-black-dress to the front door: it might even be able to find you inside a block of flats. Early trials of drones working indoors involved two being sent to circle outside the building, and by interchanging Wi-Fi signals, one of them was able to map what objects were inside the building. For now, firefighters will be the most grateful for this kind of indoor people-finding help but, with time, the drones might end up zooming up and down your flat’s corridors. They’ll know if you’re at home and if you can accept a delivery on the fifth floor. It’s certainly true that fewer delivery vehicles on the street is necessary if we’re going to combat congestion so fingers are crossed for the drone gurus getting those parcels up and flying.

Event: Future shopping will not just be delivered to homes by smart drones – it’ll also be marketed in Virtual Reality. One of our favourite film directors, Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break, The Hurt Locker), will be a keynote speaker in LA at the Shape Festival on July 14th so try to get there if you’re nearby. But if you can’t make it, you can tune in to the live-stream, as Hollywood and retail tech are getting their acts together to shoot the breeze on next-gen ads created using VR.