For a few years now, you’ve been hearing about drones taking to the skies, being the delivery vehicles of the future. They’ve already been hard at work in Australia, having made more than 3,000 deliveries over 18 months. In Ghana, a new operation led by the San Francisco-based company Zipline has 30 drones working to deliver medical supplies to 2,000 health facilities across the country.
And now the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has given clearance for similar drones to fly in the United States. Alphabet, parent company to Google, has now been approved to test drone delivery in Virginia.
What is drone delivery?
When you think of “delivery,” whether food for dinner, your latest Amazon order or otherwise, a vehicle of some sort is probably what you envision. But who says delivery has to come on wheels?
Imagine a parent with a sick child or someone elderly in a circumstance where leaving home to pick up medication is difficult. Imagine needing something for a last-minute business trip but not having the time to make it to the store. Now, what if these needs could be fulfilled by drone delivery to your front door?
Yes, delivery via the air, not the roads—by machines, not people.
What are the complications?
- The safety of drones has been at the forefront of the conversation. That’s why they endured months of trials in Australia before getting their green light from the Australian government, and that’s why drones in the U.S. have only recently gained FAA approval. Significant safety research needed to be in place first. No one wants to be dive-bombed by a delivery drone, nor does anyone want their daily existence outdoors to be newly en guard against these autonomous flyers.
- Sound pollution is a concern that’s been raised too. It takes a strong motor to be able to carry deliveries, and at present, for better or for worse, many drones have quite the buzz to them. Our guess is that this is something that will get better with the evolution of the drone designs, but in the meantime, you’ll probably hear delivery drones coming if they’re in your area.
- Government regulations and approvals are an essential step for any company interested in drones. Wing, the Alphabet subsidiary who just won government approval, is the first to cross this line in the U.S., but others will surely follow. From “no fly zones,” to new laws and regulations that will have to be created around this new innovation, we probably don’t even know what we will need to closely regulate with drones in the years to come. In his bestselling book, The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future, Steve Case, co-founder of America Online and CEO of Revolution LLC, talks about the government’s important role at the dawn of the next technological revolution, and this moment in history with drones might be an example of exactly that.
What are the benefits?
- Drone delivery will, in theory, significantly lower the carbon footprint of that “final mile” to your home or business, and it’s not just because of their long-life rechargeable batteries. These batteries themselves might be aided by cell towers or street-lights that act as recharging stations, or there’s even the wild but true discussion of drones hitching rides atop trucking company vehicles, bouncing from partner-truck to partner-truck like a hitchhiker minus the extended human thumb.
- If drones become the go-to ecommerce delivery method, that means fewer delivery trucks will be on local roads, which will lead to not only reduced emissions but also reduced traffic for commuters. That’s another huge win-win.
- And finally, we can’t neglect the inspiration for all of this: Hello, speedy deliveries. Instantaneous shopping is the one blessing and hindrance of ecommerce. An endless array of products is at your fingertips, sure, but your purchases cannot be immediately in your hands as they would be if you were in a brick-and-mortar store. Are drones about to change the possibilities of this equation? Amazon Prime Air is quoting 30 minutes for most deliveries. So, we’ll certainly see.
How else might drones disrupt the commerce space?
- Rental drones are a real possibility of how small-to-medium-sized businesses can offer drone delivery to compete with the major ecommerce players like Amazon, Walmart, Facebook, and others. Drones-as-a-Service—not so different from Software-as-a-Service (SAAS)—could be another disrupter of an industry that has been in the midst of disruption since the advent of online shopping.
- And beyond the retail industry, food delivery is another area primed for drones. Whether using Drones-as-a-Service collaborations or restaurant-owned fleets of autonomous delivery fliers, there’s potential for a big change in the air at dinner time.
This is just the beginning of the drone delivery story.
Amazon Prime plans on 80-90% of its deliveries to be made by drones “in the near future.” How “near” is still unclear, but there’s a good chance Amazon Prime Air is coming very soon. Amazon, Wing, and so many others are about to take off. Literally this time.
The retail landscape is changing quickly, with retail merchants shifting their possibilities once again. There was a time of newspaper delivery boys biking along neighborhood streets. Are we now entering the era of drone deliveries filling neighborhood skies?
Retail is hardly the only industry that could be revolutionized by the commercial usage of drones. Think of fire and safety efforts, new photography potential for real estate companies and sporting event coverage, drone traffic management, and so much more.
It might sound futuristic, but drones are taking to the skies. Are you ready for this?