Unmanned aerial vehicles (otherwise known as UAVs or drones) have been some of the most controversial robotic entities of the 21st century, primarily because of their surveillance and killing capabilities. But recently, there's been a movement away from using drones solely as pseudo-war machines. Unmanned aerial vehicles have been used to find and map forest fires, monitor crop conditions for farmers, and photograph accident sites. In December of 2013, drones became even more mainstream when Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told 60 Minutes that the company has been testing a UAV delivery service called Prime Air.
Thanks to Lakemaid Beer Company, beer-bellied ice fisherman, among others, will also benefit from drones. The Lakemaid Beer Drone is currently being tested on lakes across Wisconsin and Minnesota, and the company's president, Jack Supple, thinks Lakemaid's approach to drone delivery has a better chance than Amazon's.
"Amazon faces a lot of obstacles," Lakemaid Beer's president Jack Supple said to sUAS News. "Dense urban locations present a host of problems to drone delivery. But our tests are on vast, wide-open frozen lakes free of trees and power lines. Our drone can fly as the crow flies, straight to our target, based on GPS coordinates provided by an ice angler. Fish houses are very uniform in height, so we can fly lower than FAA limits, too." Drones are currently prohibited from flying above 400 feet.
The Wisconsin-based company recently posted a video of the Lakemaid Beer Drone in action on Lake Waconia on their website. Within days, it went viral.
The idea is that thirsty fisherman who place an order will leave their GPS coordinates with an employee who then loads the drone with a 12-pack of Lakemaid and sends it on its way. The drone arrives at the ice house, sets the 12-pack down, and takes off.
But don't get your hopes up just yet. The Lakemaid Beer Drone is still in the testing stage and isn't without problems. Supple told BringMeTheNews that the current drone is only capable of traveling a half-mile and that the company would need a bigger drone to transport the product to more distant locations. Additionally, questions are being raised about how the remote system will be able to verify whether someone is of the legal drinking age. But Lakemaid's main issue is that the FAA does not allow commercial use of unmanned aerial vehicles, and won't be issuing new regulations until 2015.
Mike Davin, the editor of The Business of Robotics, an online publication based in Edina, said that Lakemaid's announcement and ones like it are "basically publicity stunts."
"That's not to say there isn't incredible potential in these vehicles and that some concepts that sound like science-fiction today won't actually happen in the near future. But for a delivery robot like the ones proposed by Amazon or Lakemaid beer to actually become a reality, there are a lot of issues to work through first -- flight time, logistics, safety, economics," Davin said.
Davin added that while it is possible for modern UAVs to transport packages to specific locations, it's unlikely that Amazon and Lakemaid will be first in line when the FAA issues new regulations.
"The first domestic uses of this technology will more likely be related to agriculture, mapping, law enforcement, and things like that," he said.
For now, it seems Minnesota's fishermen are stuck driving to the liquor store like the rest of us.