Channel 19

Todd Dills

The drones keep coming — for your freight?

| May 23, 2012

Apologies for a post-less Tuesday, which regular Channel 19 readers no doubt noticed. I had a mini-vacation with friends and family — hearing news of the SpaceX launch in the auto on the way home to Nashville, I couldn’t help but think of owner-operator blogger Phil Madsen’s greatest post of all time, which in my view may well have been this one. In it, Madsen imagines a nighmarish future of airborne DOT drones policing all manner of activities, from improper securement to smoking in restricted outdoor areas. But in the wake of the recent Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule launch, I ask, what is an unmanned spacecraft on a cargo mission to a space station if not a drone freight hauler?

How long before unmanned craft take to the U.S. freight market?

The Dragon capsule carried only around 1,000 lbs. of cargo made up of “food, clothing and scientific equipment,” reported the Christian Science Monitor, in addition to such humorous items as the ashes of the actor who played “Scotty” on Star Trek. But the SpaceX company has a reported $1.6 billion in federal contracts to deliver cargo to the space station. Imagine if we put that much money into a truck or aircraft company to develop a driverless sky-borne freight hauler — or better yet, right into the pockets of American drivers. It might only amount to about $500 apiece, but still, a happy hauler is a safe one, right?

Given a choice between millions of taxpayer dollars funding a 1,000-lb. haul and enough cash for a tank of fuel, I might have myself a nice, profitable Atlanta to Chicago run.

In any case, it’s not that I think you have big reasons to worry. We’re still spending a lot more at the taxpayer level on surface transport than we are on space flight — for fiscal year 2012, the DOT budget is around 129 billion, almost seven times that of NASA. At once, ff we measured that by the amount of freight hauled, though, I think we’d get a lopsided per-pound ratio, eh?

Pretty cool vid of the launch here, regardless. Enjoy!



  • Don Lanier

    Isnt Texas looking at Building a Freight shuttle to move freight from the Border North to a terminal Now….I think youll see something like this soon, A robotic transfer system that Might use rail or a new Rail type line to move freight to central locations away from Ports.

  • http://overdriveonline.com/channel19 Todd Dills

    Indeed they are, Don! You heard it here in Overdrive: http://www.overdriveonline.com/states-cities-looking-for-alternatives-to-trucking/

    A ways off, though.