Amazon caused quite a stir with their "announcement" on 60 Minutes this week that they are working on creating autonomous delivery drones.
This was clearly a very successful PR ploy and not a real announcement of any product or service. The MIT Technology Review summed it up best:
Amazon’s plans to deliver packages by drones, which it predicts “will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today,” has been widely dismissed as little more than clever self-promotion.
But it definitely got a lot of people thinking about drones and their potential role in the supply chain, including retail delivery.
And from a technology standpoint, it's certainly feasible.
But one of the biggest technology forecasting mistakes is believing that if something is feasible and cool, it will happen - and happen in a big way.
The flying car and jet packs, for example, are both feasible and cool. They're both even currently available, but few are in use.
Another good example is the Segway. Great technology, very cool and even cost effective for many applications. But hardly the world changing product everyone was talking about a decade or so ago. I can go on and on with examples like these.
There are many reasons feasible technologies never make it in the market. Cost is the biggest reason. But another major reason is countervailing forces. Often unanticipated, these forces work against the adoption of new technologies.
In Segway's case the countervailing force was safety related. It quickly became clear that sidewalks were often too narrow and crowded for Segways. This led to most cities and towns banning their general use.
Safety will, of course, also be a major issue for Amazon's drone ambitions. There are so many ways a drone can cause damage it's hard to see cities allowing their use (rural delivery seems more likely).
And even if cities allow drones, there's a limited amount of low level airspace. It's not at all clear delivery drones would be the best use of this resource.
Countervailing forces are hard to see or anticipate. But it's very important in technology forecasting to try to include them in your forecasts. They have a major impact.