FedEx CEO Fred Smith sees unmanned drones as useful for more than just recon and tactical strikes. Someday soon, robotic aircraft could deliver packages all over the world, and, thanks to some new military tech, take off from airports just like passenger planes.
Right now, there are amazingly strict rules in place in regards to where unmanned automated vehicles can fly — never over residential areas, for instance — and even the tiniest concern will cancel a flight. With that in mind, the Air Force is getting ambitious: it wants to make robotic drones smart enough that they could understand a flight pattern at a major airport and be able to integrate seamlessly into it.
The work is being done by a team of researchers at Ohio's Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, who are also working on an accompanying bit of tech: having robots that are able to quickly and efficiency load and unload planes. Of course, in terms of the military, this means being able to move equipment around constantly, and a mobile army is an efficient one.
For the rest of us, however, we could be looking at the very first seeds for a global network of robotic cargo planes that delivers mail, products and goods.
How does FedEx CEO Fred Smith see it going down? He doesn't want to remove the manned element entirely. Instead, a lead plane would be piloted by a human, but a squadron of robotic cargo planes would follow it — much like birds flying in a "V" formation — greatly increasing the amount of cargo delivered.
It's a crazy thought, but one day you may be watching robotic drones line up on a runway as well as passenger planes.