The new drone technologies, such as intelligent guidance, and a significant drop in prices have enabled the drones to enter the commercial world.
So far, we have witnessed dozens of applications, but the one that interests us is drone use in the retail industry. Ever since the idea of deliveries by drones was dropped on us in 2013, we’ve been waiting for the great news to arrive.
Meanwhile, the drones have been put to hundreds of tests by a number of companies, including Amazon. Sadly, deliveries by drones are still not a reality. So, how long do we have to wait for autonomous fliers to bring our orders to our doorsteps?
Let’s try to answer the question that’s on most modern consumers’ minds.
Jeff Bezos’s 2013 Vision
For those of you not familiar with the name, Jeff Bezos is the CEO of Amazon. Back in 2013, he was interviewed on the popular show “60 Minutes”. The most interesting part of the interview for online shoppers was when Jeff was asked about deliveries by drones.
When asked when he expected Amazon to start using drones to make delivers, Bezos responded that he is confident that Amazon will start using drones by 2018. His educated guess was that Amazon would be able to deliver goods within a 10-mile radius of a warehouse by drone. In addition, he stated that the items to be delivered by drones should not exceed five pounds in weight.
Anyhow, it’s 2019 and Amazon, and all other retailers in the e-commerce industry seem to be far away from greenlighting deliveries by drones.
From the perspective of retailers, delivering goods via drones is just another delivery method. Apart from the customer experience, companies also have to assess the ROI of using drones for delivery. One of the most prominent Drone Analysts today, Colin Snow says that ROI is too low for companies to introduce the drone delivery method.
He states that drones require uniformity of payload, and this is a huge challenge because products come in all shapes, sizes, and weights. This creates operation costs that prevent retailers from investing in deliveries powered by drones.
The regulatory framework is the next in the line of challenges retailers have to overcome to fly goods to their respected customers. The two main regulatory frameworks in power here are the Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) regulation and FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program.
Unfortunately, it’s illegal to fly drones:
- Over people
- At night
- Beyond the operator’s visual line of site
But this only applies to retailers operating in the US. At the moment, China seems to be the most drone-friendly, at least in the regulatory department. And it is most likely that Chinese customers are going to be the first ones to benefit from this technology.
There are very specific technical challenges that drone manufacturers have to overcome to make the drones ready for this particular use case. The major one is the battery life.
With the current battery life, it would be very hard to manage operational drones and those that have to be recharged. And using better batteries will most likely increase the cost of drones, which brings us one step back.
On top of that, there is also the package uniformity issue. Experts say that retailers would have to install a uniform payload delivery station to make the process seamless.
Nevertheless, there are many retailers already interested in introducing a delivery method powered by drones. In the past year, we have seen several very successful deliveries by drones projects in commercial and medical drone delivery.
Zipline is the leader in medial drone delivery. The company is currently operating in Africa, and its success was followed by a $12 million investment from Ghana. Zipline is focused on a medical drone delivery program. Their drones are capable of transporting medical supplies and blood to remote and hard-to-access areas.
According to Zipline, their drone is the fastest delivery drone capable of flying at speeds up to 75 mph and cover a total of 99 miles. The drone is durable and able to operate at high altitudes and in heavy rain and wind. It can carry loads that weigh about 4 pounds.
One of the pioneers in the commercial drone delivery is Flytrex. In 2017, Flytrex successfully launched a drone delivery in Iceland. The following year Flytrex announced its plans to make food deliveries at Kings Walk Golf Course in North Dakota. The company successfully implemented the program later the same year.
One of the Chinese companies also made a breakthrough in 2018. SF Express is the second-largest courier in the country. Their plan to offer deliveries by drones to clients got a green light from China’s Civil Aviation Authority.
Unfortunately, even with the official permit SF Express still hasn’t started making drone deliveries, which raises a lot of entirely new questions.
Project Wing announced the Helsinki drone delivery program for spring 2019. Their drones are capable of delivering goods that weigh up to 3.3 pounds within a 6.2-mile radius of warehouses. The company chose Finland to kickstart their project because Finland is drone-friendly in terms of laws and regulations.
AirBus’s drone delivery projects is also a very interesting one. The company announced in June 2018 that it plans on using drones to make shore-to-ship deliveries. The test runs began in February 2019 in Singapore.
Amazon Prime Air
Amazon has perhaps the fanciest name for a drone delivery program – Prime Air. The Prime Air is currently in the development stage, and it’s being tested in the Amazon centers in the US, UK, Austria, France, and Israel. Unfortunately, we still don’t have the exact date when this will come to life.
As you can see, there are a lot of pieces moving on the board when it comes to deliveries by drones. There are still some challenges to overcome, but it’s safe to assume that we will be able to have our products delivered to our homes by drones in 2020.