When Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) let slip plans about using unmanned drones to facilitate same-day deliveries, bloggers and analysts had a field day. While there are some potential benefits to drone-based deliveries, a number of questions were raised about just how feasible such a plan really was. Amazon's not alone when it comes to betting on unconventional technology, however. Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) has recently made headlines with the purchase of the robotics lab Boston Dynamics for an undisclosed sum.
Given Google's various non-Internet projects including driverless cars, it's no surprise that the company is expanding further into robotic research. The big question is, is there an end result that Google hopes to reach? Or, like some believe of Amazon, is Google just making a splash now and sorting out the details later?
The future is now
Both Amazon's drones and Google's robots are high-profile stories that got people talking. They're easy for some to dismiss because the technology involved is still new, but that doesn't mean that the companies can't make the technology work. Unmanned drones are becoming more prominent in a variety of fields, and Boston Dynamics has already developed several impressive robots that were designed under contract with the Pentagon.
Since the technology exists, it's entirely possible that Amazon will be able to launch its drone project on at least a limited basis. Drones are already being used for a number of purposes, and a few companies have expressed an interest in using drones for local deliveries for items such as tacos and pizza.
Is there a point?
Just because it's possible that Google and Amazon can make great strides in technology doesn't mean that it's going to happen overnight. Amazon in particular is unlikely to roll out its drone project on a wide scale unless it can find a way to overcome problems surrounding the accurate delivery of packages in urban environments and an increasing number of cities that are discussing anti-drone ordinances. While it's entirely likely that Amazon will eventually roll out its drones in some manner, I wouldn't hold my breath hoping for same-day delivery by air.
Google, on the other hand, will likely put the Boston Dynamics purchase to good use. Not only does it give the company access to valuable government contracts, but it also provides it with additional technology that could eventually supplement some of its other projects. Despite the attention that the Boston Dynamics purchase is receiving, it isn't Google's first foray into robotics ... it's the company's eighth, and that's just in the last six months. While it's possible that the robotics acquisitions are just a means of diversification for the company, given the number of unannounced projects that Google has running at any given time there's likely an underlying purpose behind the acquisitions.
So how will this affect you?
Despite being discussed a lot in the media (yes, including this article), in the end neither Amazon's drone plans nor Google's robotics purchases will likely have much of an effect in the short or even medium term. Amazon's plan could be considered more of an experiment than anything, while Google's acquisitions are likely focused more on internal development and corporate diversification than any plan to launch a real-life Skynet.
Of course, just because Amazon's drones aren't going to fill the air anytime soon and Google isn't fielding an army of robots doesn't mean that similar projects won't eventually become mainstream. Unmanned delivery drones could eventually see use by other companies, including UPS and FedEx, if the technology becomes cost-effective. As for Google, it's entirely possible that it could release consumer-level robotics at some point, even if it's not based on Boston Dynamics' technology.
The world is changing, and innovative companies like Amazon and Google are changing with it. It's just important to remember that not every acquisition or CEO statement is going to have an immediate (or even significant) effect on the world at large.