The online shopping industry is continually growing, with the UK’s e-commerce market becoming the third largest in the world. Accordingly, retail focus is shifting towards optimising product shipping, by reducing delivery cost and time. Drones are the next technological leap, carrying packages of 30kg at 54 km/h and have direct routes to customers. Drone delivery is feasible and can be extended to other industries, but like with any technological advancement, a debate is sparked around whether it is acceptable. An ethical examination reveals the improved delivery capabilities of drones and reduced environmental impact, may sacrifice security and invade privacy.
Angels in the Sky
Many opportunities are created with drone delivery. Adopting a duty ethics attitude towards drone deliveries, fuel consumption and potential carbon emissions can be reduced by replacing the need for delivery vans with electric drones. These could ideally be recharged at renewable sources. Also the volume of greenhouse gas emitted per package is estimated to be lower with drones. The duty ethics framework encourages delivery drones as they may limit harm to the environment, which is an action promoted by all countries as established in “The Paris agreement”. Moreover, this framework combats personal privacy concerns due to cameras being equipped on drones. CCTV operation and citizens recording videos in public is a socially accepted behaviour and is even condoned by law, hence duty ethics permits drones to record as well.
From a utilitarian regard, delivery drones can increase satisfaction for customers. They reduce delivery costs which has been steadily increasing with fuel prices, but electric drones are unaffected subsequently allowing savings to be transferred to customers. Drones also allow the lead time of deliveries to be reduced as traffic related inconveniences can be avoided, travelling through the air. The automated system could generate the shortest route to increase efficiency as well as accuracy, because drones are less likely than humans to make errors in delivering to the right recipient. This will decrease the number of irritated customers receiving the wrong package, and the combination of savings and shorter delivery times will increase customer gratification. These results are in line with utilitarianism along with the increased satisfaction of company shareholders resulting from increased customer approval.
The stated increase of customer contentment would be consistent with care ethics as companies have an expectation to maintain satisfaction in their relationship with consumers. However, an alternative relationship that could be examined is that of the predominantly web-based drone delivery companies, and other E-commerce companies. The cheaper and faster shipping attracts more consumers to shop online, prompting the growth of online retailers. From a care ethics regard, companies with large drone delivery services can have relationships with smaller independent businesses, allowing these retailers to reach a larger audience at affordable costs. From a virtue ethics regard, delivery drones are valuable as they enable access to remote locations. Rwanda implemented medicine and blood delivery infrastructures using drones, as other means of transport is impractical. Delivery drones could also decrease transportation times of blood and organ donations, which are time critical services, allowing for more successful transplants. Virtue ethics promotes benevolence and humanity, which is realised in both these benefits, as drones enable more lives to be saved.
Disturbance, Danger and Drones
There are drawbacks to consider with this new service. From a virtue ethics regard, drones could hurt animals such as birds and the surrounding ecosystems. The noise produced from a drone flying too close to a nest could drive adult birds away, leading to abandonment of eggs and chicks. Alternatively, animals could attack drones or incur accidental collisions leading to severe injuries caused by the blades. Virtue ethics states, humans should be compassionate towards animals and using drones does not benefit animals but is dangerous to their survival.
Equipping delivery drones with cameras for navigational purposes is problematic in duty ethics. Flying cameras over other people’s homes in considered intrusive by society as it is an invasion of their privacy. Duty ethics forbids this action by means of the reciprocity principal, stating one would choose to have their own privacy respected and must therefore respect others. Automated deliveries may also be prohibited in this framework. Certain items are understood to only be deliverable to certain individuals. Automation may allow deliveries of knifes and alcohol to children, which would be breaking norms established by society for safety purposes, and could lead to significant harm to children.
From a utilitarian regard, drones disturb air travel and can lead to temporary closures of airports. Delivery drones will enhance the irritations of travellers who have flights delayed, and the discomfort of passengers in aircrafts that have near misses with drones. Another complexity is potential damage to property as drones travel and arrive to customers. Authorities responsible for maintaining power lines, and cell towers etc. will have to repair damage and customers themselves if anything is destroyed during drone landings. Utilitarianism finds significantly more people are impacted from disastrous drone deliveries than benefited from successful ones. Also the level of increase in discomfort for delayed passengers or anyone with damaged property, is higher than the increase of comfort for the individual receiving deliveries faster. Extending the ethical framework to the freedom principal, the innovation is rejected, as delivery drones negatively affect these groups. Automation also displaces jobs in the delivery sector. These employees have a significant detriment to their standard of living. The government and other citizens have to support the unemployed through increased taxes. The varying levels of despair to many in the wider society eclipses the increased revenue of the delivery companies.
Security concerns are raised in care ethics, when considering automated drones may be hacked which contain information of customer addresses, and items ordered which could result in blackmail. Worse yet, criminals could use these intercepted drones with company logos to commit acts of terror, as they would be harder to detect. Care ethics states companies have a responsibility to these customers and the community they operate in, and should use the securer option of couriers, at the extra cost.
The initial decision is for implementing delivery drones.