This growing discontent is unfortunate for companies such as Amazon.com, which in 2013 announced an ambitious plan to employ autonomous multicopters to deliver parcels. The Seattle-based company's proposed Prime Air service, the legality of which it is presently a topic of discussion with the US Federal Aviation Administration, would offer sub-30-minute parcel delivery via multicopter. It's a tempting carrot, but the questions such a service raises – related to safety, noise and cost – may ultimately spell its doom.
But a young industrial designer from Israel may have come up with a clever compromise. Kobi Shikar, a student at Shenkar College of Engineering and Design, has unveiled conceptual plans for the Transwheel, an autonomous self-balancing one-wheeled parcel-delivery platform. The Transwheel itself looks like a riderless version of the Ryno scooter, with robotic arms for loading and unloading parcels and an array of cameras that will allow it to avoid obstacles, negotiate road traffic and even identify the faces of delivery recipients.
And the Transwheel has a big advantage over aerial drones, which likely will be limited to single parcels of a certain size or weight: multiple Transwheels can work in unison to manage larger parcels – much larger, in fact. Shikar's concept video depicts a dozen of the scooters working together to haul a full-size shipping container.
At this writing, no company has stepped up to produce the Transwheel, but the concept's technology – most of it, at least – seems hardly the stuff of science fiction. Perhaps Amazon.com would do well to forget flying drones and keep its feet – or rather one big wheel – planted firmly on the ground.
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