Lately we’ve been discussing the wild technology impacts the world will feel in the 2020s.
And again, let’s be clear: If you don’t think the next decade will be wild, you’re not paying attention. There is a convergence of tipping point trends and technological capabilities dead ahead that will create change — rapid change — like nothing we’ve seen in our lifetime.
Some aspects of the 2020s landscape will be so bizarre they are hard to even grasp at first.
Consider, for example, how drones could replace your washing machine (and dryer, too).
To back up for a moment, one of the most visible changes of the past few years has been an explosion in the door-to-door delivery of “stuff.”
The trend started to take off years ago with the rise of Amazon Prime memberships. Then other retailers stepped up e-commerce delivery to fight back against Amazon. Then app-based delivery services like Doordash and Deliveroo and Grub Hub started delivering food like crazy. Then Uber started competing via Uber Eats, and an explosion of mobile services (where XYZ comes to your house) took off via apps. On and on it goes.
The door-to-door delivery trend is taking off because upper middle-class consumers have realized that, within a reasonable price range, their most valuable commodity is time. Even if it costs, say, an extra $8 to have dinner delivered, that is a chunk of time saved not having to round-trip the restaurant.
The time-saving logic applies even more to consumer goods, in terms of showing up on the doorstep via mouse click. The easier it gets to click or tap or speak a phrase, and then have a desired purchase appear like magic, the more we like it.
The problem is that all this driving and delivering is wildly inefficient.
Having a large delivery truck distribute, say, 120 packages over the course of a day — typical for a UPS driver — is a waste of energy and fuel. The packages that get delivered last are like hitchhikers traipsing all over town.
From both an energy efficiency and congestion standpoint, rideshare drivers who double as delivery drivers, making constant trips to drop off a single package or a single food order, are potentially even worse than delivery trucks. It’s like having your Thai food shipped to you in a 3,000-pound container (the weight of a compact car), while adding to road traffic besides (because so many others are doing the same thing).
But drones could change the economics of door-to-door delivery completely.
Drones could change door-to-door economics so radically, in fact, that washing machines and dryers could go the way of standalone cameras. You can still buy a standalone camera if you really want to. But unless you’re a professional photographer, there is little point thanks to smartphones.
With drones, it comes down to factors like efficiency, energy use, and congestion.
First, drone deliveries will be far more efficient from a “rolling hardware” standpoint. The drone delivery mechanism for your package or food order might weigh, say, 30 pounds instead of 3,000 pounds plus a driver — a weight reduction greater than 99% if you count the driver. Even larger drones, designed for heavier pick-ups, would be like a roller skate in comparison to a car.
Second, drone energy use can be “zero carbon” or close. Because drones are so light relative to their payloads, they can run on electricity, which means they can draw from a central power plant powered by mass-scale solar panels or wind turbines.
And third, drones could dramatically reduce traffic congestion. The more “stuff” that gets delivered via airborne traffic, as opposed to road traffic, the more the roads are cleared for moving humans around. In heavily populated urban centers, where rideshare vehicles are already a nasty traffic problem, this will be a huge value-add.
But getting back to washing machine and dryer replacement: When drone ecosystems are fully formed — and drone delivery is already a routine thing, by the way, in places like rural China — the economics of household life will tilt even more in the direction of sheer convenience.
At a certain point, the drone pickup-and-delivery system becomes like a courier that is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Except this courier service is far more reliable, and far more readily available, than any human-based service could ever be.
At that point, it literally becomes easier to give your laundry to a drone courier to be professionally washed and dried off site and returned, than to have standalone laundry facilities in your house (that go unused the vast majority of the time).
For another angle on this: Try to picture a drone delivery network as a physical world version of the internet.
In the way the digital internet ships packets of information from point A to point B, drones could approach the same level of seamlessness in moving “stuff” around, while bypassing present-day problems of congestion, cost, and energy waste. The tipping point is when humans start interacting with drones as casually as they do with smartphones.
Trends like these are going to create new business models, some of them so strange they can’t even be conceived of yet.
It’s worth remembering that, when Airbnb got going in 2008-2009, their concept seemed so bizarre that they were literally laughed at. Even the venture capital investors who gave Airbnb funding thought the idea was ridiculous — but invested anyway on a “you never know” basis.
In the 2020s, factors like the rise of drone delivery will change certain industries so much that doors will open nobody knew existed. As this happens, companies whose profit margins appear safe today could see their business models collapse.
Bring the popcorn and prepare to be nimble.
TradeSmith Research Team