Delivery drones coming to a house near you?

  • Wednesday, December 4, 2013

“When did the future switch from being a promise to being a threat?” - Novelist Chuck Palahniuk

As I write this column in early December, I am glad that back before the municipal election in November, I wrote one about the need for transformational leaders in this town. There are two reasons I felt that way then and still feel that way. First, the status quo has always been one of my pet peeves.

I am not one to be satisfied with the way things are. Frankly, I think that is just un-American. Second, I’m glad I wrote that column because when I heard the news over Thanksgiving that Amazon is planning to use drones to deliver books within 30 minutes of purchase right to your house, my first thought was “WWMPD?” That’s, “What Would Mount Pleasant Do?”

As a trendy, upscale suburban community, we all know this sort of cutting edge, consumer technology is right up our ally. What could be more 21st century than having a drone buzz right down into your yard delivering the hard copy book you just purchased?

Perhaps this type of purchase-delivery method will only be popular with those who have resisted the e-book trend. Time will tell. But I can’t help wondering if this is the sort of thing that will be allowed in the town of Mount Pleasant. After all, the town recently cherry-picked certain types of technology to outlaw the use of while driving a car. Will the town stand for remote control commercial drones buzzing over suburbia, into gated or restricted neighborhoods, and possibly disturbing the peace? Is the sound of 21st century commercial drones compatible with the ambiance of the Old Village?

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos says his idea needs federal approval from the FAA, but as he said in an interview over the weekend, “This is going to happen.” He says his drones can carry up to five pounds, which covers 85 percent of Amazon sales. Once the feds check off on this, which I believe they will, what say will municipalities have? This is shaping up to be an interesting governmental issue. It could be that since the airways are ruled by federal regulations, municipalities will just have to accept commercial drone use. Another reality is that once this Pandora’s box is opened, every other retailer will get its own fleet of drones humming, and soon our towns will look like a scene from the old “Jetsons” cartoon.

Your hot, low fat, latte grande will land right on your patio. Then your new book will land just after your coffee, and you’ll be set for the morning.

As the Lowcountry has seen in the ongoing suit to limit and restrict cruise ships in the City of Charleston, any number of municipal ordinances can be cited in an attempt to restrict just about anything someone doesn’t like. Just as no one prior to the cruise ship opposition ever thought height and sign ordinances were meant to regulate a port city’s lifeblood – shipping – you can bet similar ordinances about commercial vehicles, noise, business hours in residential areas, etc., will be cited to try to stop commercial drone deliveries. Undoubtedly, this will pit neighbor against neighbor. “I don’t want that dang thing flying over my patio while I’m grilling,” one neighbor will shout across the fence to the other. “Why can’t you just quietly download an e-book like the rest of us?!”

Then said neighbor will call his town councilman to complain, and the cherry-picking of technology bans will be re-ignited. We all know this is coming. The future is now. What will Mount Pleasant do?

Will Haynie has published more than 400 oped columns as a feature columnist for the Asheville Citizen-Times and the Hendersonville (N.C.) Times-News when it was owned by the New York Times. His niche is as a humorous conservative. Find him on Twitter at @willhaynie or email him at Haynie.will@gmail.com.

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