It's moving fast from science fiction to the here-and-now in Canberra.
James Ryan Burgess, the chief executive of Project Wing, which is planning a drone delivery service in the ACT, has spelt out the detail.
The venture now has a warehouse in Mitchell as a base, from where it plans to offer deliveries to homes and businesses in nearby Gungahlin, Palmerston, Harrison, Crace and Franklin. If the experiment succeeds, the plan is to expand across Canberra and Australia and, according to the pitch by Mr Burgess, the rest of the world.
Mr Burgess told a public meeting in Gungahlin:
- the drones would hover seven metres off the ground and lower a line with a container. Sellers and buyers would hook and unhook the basket containing the goods on a line at either end of the journey;
- there have been no crashes of the aircraft so far;
- the drones fly unaided by humans;
- information about journeys and routes would be stored in Google facilities but privacy data would be deleted automatically;
- if things go wrong, the drones are programmed to land safely;
- the drones can't be taken over by outsiders and commandeered to misbehave.
At the generally favourable meeting, Mr Burgess said the California-based company, an off-shoot of Google's parent company Alphabet, was looking at ways of delivering to high-rise buildings.
"We are thinking about how that would work", he said. "Would it be roof-top access? Or some type of mail-box on people's balconies?"
He conceded there had been community concerns about noise and his engineers were working to change the pitch and the volume of the engine noise to make it more like other sounds in the city.
"We've actually chosen to redeploy our resources and we are working on a new version of our aircraft which reduces the sound but also changes the sound to make it a bit more familiar," Mr Burgess said.
"Right now, it's a pretty unique sound. We can't help but hear it so we're changing the pitch and frequency to make it more familiar and blend into the background."
He said the decision to keep the drones at seven metres above the ground when picking up and delivering was so there could be no interaction between the public and the machine.
"We love airplanes, but most people are either indifferent or don't like them so much."
At the meeting, a Bonython resident asked about impact of the drones on birds. Project Wing has been trialling the drone delivery system in the suburb since February and the woman said she had seen drones attacked by magpies three times.
But Mr Burgess said he knew of no instance where a drone had actually hit a bird. "Birds, it turns out, are very good at seeing and detecting things and getting out of the way," he said.
The drones fly up to 120 to 125 kilometres per hour. They use GPS but also have cameras that can sense changes in the landscape, such as colours or features in the terrain to work out where they are. Mr Burgess said it would be impossible for a malign outsider to take over the controls.
He didn't completely answer on where information would be stored but indicated it would be in Google's data warehouses since it was part of the Google company. Privacy data would be deleted, though he didn't say what information would be considered sensitive and deleted by the system.
The company's pitch is that the biggest killer of wildlife is cars and drones diminish the need for cars as delivery vehicles. The company is also making the point in its PR offensive that drones burn less fossil fuel than a car would to deliver a pizza.
The thrust of his presentation was that the company wanted to develop the service step by step, trying out areas and techniques to make sure they work and that the system was safe.
But Mr Burgess conceded there was a potential conflict: "Every time an aircraft flies, it's present there for many people on the ground and maybe not for consumers who ordered the package, and that's a challenge.
"But every time an aircraft flies, it's actually meeting the needs of someone in the community.
"We have shift workers or parents with young children who might need chemist items and who don't want to pack the children in the car."
Initially, the trial involves businesses getting their goods to the company's premises and loading them on the drone there, but eventually the plan would be for drones to pick up from a company - say a pizza parlour or coffee shop - and take the goods straight to the person who ordered it.
Mr Burgess estimated the delivery charge would be in "the low single of dollars".
But the big unanswered question: will the pizza or coffee still be hot?