Drones that Deliver

As we become accustomed to ever-higher levels of convenience, major retailers including Amazon and, more recently, Argos, are offering next-day and same-day delivery. The demand is there, however, for even faster delivery. Enter the drones.

Reaching the customer in 30 minutes

This past November Amazon released a new video showcasing their latest drone prototype. Taking inspiration from both helicopter and airplane technology, Amazon claims their drone deliveries will arrive within thirty minutes of an order. Named Octocopters, they are designed to carry packages weighing up to 2.3 kg from warehouses to the customer’s front door. CEO Jeff Bezos has predicted that the new service could start within the next five years, although US regulators have yet to grant permission for the drones to use civilian air space.

Drones and the law

In fact, in 2014 the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounded drones used by US brewery Lakemaid to deliver cold cases of beer to people ice-fishing in Minnesota. The brewer was trialling their new delivery service using remote-controlled quadcopters, similar to the ones often used by amateurs to capture aerial video and photography. Unfortunately for Lakemaid, under current FAA rules it is against the law to fly a drone if it is used for commercial purposes, and they were forced to halt the deliveries.

Still, with the likes of Google launching their own service in 2017, it is fair to expect the regulatory hurdles to shrink in the short to medium term. Amazon has suggested that its first deliveries may take place in the UK because authorities here are moving relatively fast to keep pace with the technology.

Medical deliveries

While commercial drone deliveries are off limits to retailers and their customers in the US, drones are being employed for medical purposes in other parts of the world. Matternet out of California has developed their flagship drone to transport packages of up to 1 kg over 20 kilometres without the need to recharge the batteries. The drones have delivered medical supplies in Haiti and Switzerland.

The case for drones

The case for the technology is compelling. How could it be efficient to make deliveries of lightweight items with heavy, fossil-fuel-burning vehicles operated by humans in traffic on circuitous routes when a drone with low power requirements can fly in a straight line faster and for less cost?

The technology has arrived to support delivery by drone; the regulatory framework must now merely catch up.

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