Postal Service looks cautiously to drones

Shutterstock image (by Action Sports Photography): a shadowed UAV drone flying through the air.

If you're over 55, drones are scary and aren't to be trusted. If you're under that age, you tend to believe the technology might be useful. Either way, you think aerial delivery of goods and services is inevitable.

That, at least, is what the Postal Service's inspector general found in its nationwide online survey of 18-75 year-olds across the country in June as it looked for ways to capitalize on possible cost benefits and "extraordinarily fast" 24/7 almost-anywhere deliveries that the technology could open up for USPS' flagging business.

Along with the promise, however, the Postal Service found it was up against stark, generational barriers and aiming at a moving target.

For instance, the survey found the thought of airspace filled with delivery drones could be one person's vision of hell, while another respondent may see anytime-anywhere purchasing freedom.

The Postal Service realizes that "the public's rapidly evolving perception" of emerging drone delivery services is a key to its groundwork strategy to harness them. "Though it will still take a few years for the technology to mature and the regulatory framework to emerge, proactively examining the concept could allow the Postal Service to better assess its operational feasibility, fundamental economics, regulatory compliance, and social implications," the report said.

The Office of Inspector General survey found the public currently has an "ambiguous" opinion of drone delivery, with more Americans liking it than not, but with a large percentage of undecideds.

The survey also found that Americans don't trust unmanned aircraft not to malfunction and are concerned more with safety than by fears of misuse.

Age made a tremendous difference in reactions to the technology, according to the survey. Baby Boomers and members of Generation X, the study found, anticipate drone delivery was coming in the next 10 years, but tech-centered millennials believe it will be offered within the next five.

The Postal Service concluded that while there is an appetite for under-an-hour fast delivery services, it is probably too soon to launch such a service for any organization. It found brand positivity among millennials, Generation X and Baby Boomers, dropped when the subject of drone delivery was brought up and associated with a brand.

On the other hand, it said there could be a bit of a bounce for brand association. "Despite its drag on overall brand positivity, association with drone delivery makes the Postal Service look more innovative," the report said.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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