The rooftop economy of your dreams

It’s like something out of Mary Poppins. Although she’s unlikely to approve of the idea… at first.

Imagine if your rooftop, balcony or back-garden were truly special. A place where you only had to wish for something to appear, pay for it with your phone, and then wait patiently for it to materialise out of thin air within minutes.

We’re talking inanimate objects here, not nannies. Although pets might take flight too, someday…

Whatever it is that you want, I don’t think we’re far off of launching our rooftop economy right here in the UK. You might not have to dream for long.

For now at least, the stuff we wish for only appears on our doorstep. And it’s brought to us by more or less helpful people who drive vans around all day, delivering that stuff.

My online grocery delivery firm is back up and running, for example. I’d been locked out, presumably because they prioritised Covid-19 suspects. For weeks we had to head to the local grocery store – a full five-minute walk away…

Plus the 20-minute queue that our MPs can’t handle without making it a political issue…

But now I can order online again. I have to walk about 20 steps to my door to get my groceries. And the selection is vastly improved.

Funny how quickly I got used to the idea of having groceries delivered. Four months ago it seemed like an awful idea.

Then again, things like our hammock, volleyball and endless baby toys necessities have been arriving for months or even years using this online method.

But for today, I’m talking about a proper unmanned rooftop economy that doesn’t clog up our roads, employ drivers or pollute cities with fumes and noise. I’m talking about the ability to get just about anything delivered, very fast.

Yesterday morning I used up the last of the Nutella. I had to eat my Nutella toast in front of my Nutellaless father-in-law after he’d spent ages looking for the jar.

In that moment I would’ve used the rooftop economy to get more Nutella for sure.

Or when my risotto recipe for eight ended up being enough for about four. The five people at the table were left wanting a Viennetta. Which could’ve arrived in minutes if the rooftop economy were up and running by now.

And we may be getting close to that point.

Amazon’s Prime Air drones are already buzzing away… in tests. And the commercial service could be up and running “within months” according to an announcement made by the company… 12 months ago.

But in March, a former Boeing executive took over Prime Air. (How’s that for timing your career move well!)

Boeing execs are likely much better at dealing with government hurdles such as those Amazon’s Prime Air is dealing with. But what does Prime Air promise us?

Prime Air is designed to deliver packages under five pounds — which account for 85% of the products sold on Amazon — in 30 minutes or less using fully electric drones that can fly up to 15 miles.

Not bad. I think that means a single drone airport could service everything inside the M25 within 30 minutes! I don’t know if my father-in-law would’ve waited that long though…

A launch date of 31 August may or may not be pencilled in for Prime Air in the US, depending on who you ask.

Why am I optimistic about this service? Because competition is in the air, literally.

UPS and Google’s parent company are in the race to the skies too now.

Not to mention Covid-19 highlighting the safety benefits of the rooftop economy.

In fact, the start-up Zipline began delivering Covid-19 tests in Ghana back in April, while the UK government was still scrounging around for PPE.

Its speed could make the rooftop economy a vital part of our emergency services too. Vox explained how with an example from Ghana:

New Tafo, Ghana — A very sick 7-year-old boy was recently admitted to a rural hospital in Ghana. He needed a transfusion of O-negative blood — and fast.

Ordinarily, the staff would’ve been hard-pressed to help him in time. But that day, all they had to do was send a WhatsApp message.

About 15 minutes later, a drone appeared in the sky. It parachuted a box containing a package of blood onto the hospital courtyard. The staff immediately used it and were able to save the boy.

“If we hadn’t gotten that, the child would have lost his life,” said Dr. Kobena Wiredu, the medical superintendent of New Tafo Government Hospital in Ghana’s Eastern Region.

Pretty cool. The only thing standing between me and my daughter getting the same service is a bunch of politicians and civil servants who claim to be concerned about safety…

I wonder how you would feel about an illegal drone delivery service that could save your child’s life…

Speaking of illegal, the drones buzzing over the English Channel tell you that certain people are already using the rooftop economy just to get here. But let’s not go there.

The project in Ghana isn’t a Western aid-funded endeavour, by the way. It’s a private company from San Francisco getting paid $12 million by the Ghanaian government for a few years’ services.

Now it’s not all good news. The drone industry and its detractors are battling over all sorts of concerns and risks.

The NGOs are complaining that the company operating drones in Ghana is saving lives too quickly for too much money. That money should’ve been spent on hospitals and roads finished in ten years’ time, not saving lives today, they argue.

Or consider the ability of tech savvy highway robbers to down your delivery drone and its Nutella. Call it air piracy.

Then there’s the issue of anonymity. What if drones can deliver illegal goods? How can they be stopped? Registered? Shot down if they’re suspect?

Perhaps with one of these – a drone gun despite what my image headline suggests…

French President Emmanuel Macron showing off new EU compliant bayonet

Source: Business News Western Australia

Air traffic is also a problem. The sky which drones want to fly through is full of unpredictable human-controlled pests and other biological obstacles that have to be given a wide berth.

Then there’s the jobs all this would destroy. All those gig-economy workers who are campaigning for benefits will soon discover their drone competitors do not need healthcare. And they don’t need bridges or tunnels to cross highways and rivers, making them faster.

No doubt the peddlers and mopedees will unionise to prevent drones from taking their jobs. But, in the end, they’ll be no more successful than the Luddites were. And delivery driving will go the way of the chimney sweep. Ironically, you’ll find the drones on rooftops instead of dancing chimneysweeps…

But before we encounter flying pizza, there’s one more technological constraint which needs sorting out. And our tech analyst has found the company providing the hardware for it.

Does that sound like a good investment to you? The company that could unlock the rooftop economy?

Well, you can discover what company it is, right here.

Nick Hubble
Editor, Southbank Investment Research

Category: Commodities

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