Consultant and contract engineer Richard Clark published his new work of fiction, “Drones Over Seattle,” for the Amazon Kindle just last week — telling the story of a computer programmer and former Black Hat hacker named Sean who is hired by a Pioneer Square robotics startup to revamp and stabilize its high-tech flying drone.
So imagine Clark’s surprise a few days later, when news emerged that Amazon is asking the FAA to let the company fly its delivery drones in the Seattle region. The company is hoping to get clearance to test the “Prime Air” package delivery system that CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled on 60 Minutes last year.
Check out the cover of Clark’s book, at right. That drone is practically flying over Amazon’s headquarters.
To be clear, that part would still be fiction, for the time being. Amazon promised in its letter to the FAA that it would test its drones away from densely populated areas, over private property in an unspecified location in the Seattle region.
Clark, a University of Washington graduate and U.S. Navy vet, has worked on everything from optical storage and artificial intelligence to biomedical research and avionics during his career. He published his new book as a fictional companion to a technical white paper called “Solutions For The TARDIS Stabilization Problem,” a reference to the flying time machine in Dr. Who.
Clark, who lives in West Seattle, heard me talking about Amazon’s plan on KUOW-FM last week and sent the station a message afterward, noting the coincidence.
Since Clark has spent more time thinking about these topics than most people, I decided to follow up and ask: Does he think the company’s drone delivery plans are feasible and realistic?
“Nope,” he replied via email. “However, Jeff Bezos isn’t fixated on the near-term. This is a very commendable attitude in believing about the future. I think he is miles ahead in terms of vision. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that forecasting the future use of technology is a fool’s mission. There are unintended consequences all ’round.”
Asked for his take on Amazon’s request to the FAA, Clark said it isn’t a matter of “if” drones will be tested in U.S. airspace, but rather “when and how.”
“Myself, I would probably toy with the notion of designing surface-to-air intercepts if they flew over my back yard,” he joked. “Property rights do include the airspace above you.”
So how will this whole drone thing turn out? Check out Clark’s book for one possible outcome.