Drone Delivery Coming Soon? Updates and Advances by Market Players in the Field

With F.A.A. Approval for Amazon’s Prime Air Drones, the idea of 30 minute deliveries are one step closer to becoming a reality

The use of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles for the purpose of delivery is not new. Amazon’s Prime Air made headlines when they announced the initial plan to delivery goods by drone in 2013, but drone delivery has been successfully used over the last few years to transport supplies, medical goods or even groceries. With Covid-19 raging and social distancing and work-from-home measures in place across the globe, attention has turned back to drone deliveries to help with the surging e-commerce sector.

What Would Be the Benefits of Drone Delivery?

Delivery by aerial drone has some unique advantages. Aside from being able to cut delivery times by avoiding busy traffic and congestion, the VTOL (Vertical Take off and Landing) ability of most drones, coupled with their small size gives them access to areas not easily reached by road, boat or larger aircraft.

Drone Delivery Canada partnered with Moose Cree First Nation to deliver food, mail and medical supplies to the rural area. In April 2019, Wing, an Alphabet Inc. owned company partnered with Walgreens in Virginia, USA, to deliver food, beverages and health products within minutes of the town of Christiansburg. Wing operated another delivery service in Brisbane, Australia in 2020, making headlines for keeping residents stocked with coffee and toilet paper during lockdown. During the same period, in the Isle of Mull in Scotland The United Kingdom National Health Service (NHS) partnered with Wingcopter to use drones in the fast delivery of personal protective equipment and Covid-19 test kits to the isolated islands of the Hebrides.

Drones Fly Back Into the Public Eye During Lockdown

The unique situation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has brought the idea of drone delivery back to the surface. With lockdowns and social distancing measures not predicted to end for some time, drone deliveries are once again an appealing, not to mention lucrative possibility. Goldman Sachs believes the use of drones could spawn a 100 Billion USD market, with possibilities ranging from border patrol to pizza delivery. With e-commerce booming, the certification of Prime Air for deliveries could indicate big steps forward by the retail giant.

Who are the Major Players to Watch for Drone Delivery?

Currently Prime Air stands alongside Wing and UPS as operators with FAA approval to operate drones for deliveries. Outside of the USA, Wingcopter GmbH has been operating beyond-line-of-sight delivery of medical supplies in remote islands in the South Pacific, Scotland and Africa, alongside Zipline (also working towards FAA certification in the USA). Swoop Aero and Wing are the main players in Australia, and in the heart of Berlin, another german company, Matternet, has started drone delivery of Covid-19 medical supplies.

Drones in use at the moment (such as by Wingcopter) must be piloted by a trained operator controlling the drone via a live video feed. To make drone deliveries truly cost efficient for e-commerce and groceries, autonomous drones will be the next big step. By allowing the drones to fly pre-programmed or auto-piloted routes, the high cost of a human operator is eliminated. With last mile delivery being one of the most expensive logistical steps, autonomous drones could cut costs significantly. The recent F.A.A. accreditation of Amazon’s Prime Air drones is a big step towards that reality, with autonomous operation being the retail giant’s ultimate goal.

While truly autonomous drone delivery has yet to be approved commercially, the FAA appears to be encouraging innovation in the field. Drone delivery may be coming sooner that we expect!

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