Many companies have been experimenting with innovative ways to deliver products using drones for some time, from Boeing unveiling its cargo drone that can carry up to 500 pounds of packages to Marriott testing indoor drones that can deliver drinks to guests at tables.
Then, of course, there’s the ecommerce juggernaut Amazon, which expects to get its massive Prime Air fleet — its fleet of drones for carrying packages under five pounds — up and running sometime this year.
Right now, it’s estimated that there are about 20,000 drones in the sky making all kinds of deliveries, from medical supplies to food staples. By 2026, that number could balloon to more than 1 million drones in the sky, according to a report by global research firm Gartner.
It’s not difficult to see why: drones are simply more efficient than other last-mile delivery methods. (The same Gartner report said that autonomous drones can deliver packages at operational costs that are 70% lower than van deliveries.)
That’s the landscape of drone delivery right now: a rapidly growing field that’s poised for even more growth in the coming years. But what will drone deliveries look like 10 years from now in 2030 when consumers almost certainly will expect even faster delivery times?
It’s hard to say, but the team at Wikibuy visualized predictions for the future of drone deliveries from logistics experts quoted in McKinsey & Company’s report “The future of parcel delivery: Drones and disruption.” Here’s what deliveries might look like.
One possible scenario is a truck full of drones that pulls into a residential neighborhood and releases the drones from that central point. This would cut down on some of the costs of drones having to travel long distances from far-away distribution centers (and would likely speed the process up a bit). Of course, it would also be more efficient than having a delivery driver go door to door within the neighborhood.
Other experts predict that there could be autonomous vehicles — be it trucks or drones — that constantly move throughout a neighborhood. Mounted on these vehicles would be parcel lockers (similar to the stationary ones that are common today). This would function as sort of a self-serve central access point for retrieving packages within your neighborhood. (It could also serve as an efficient drop-off point for returns.)
Still, other experts see more drone deliveries to trunks of cars and even to other points of contact, such as to neighbors or family members. The goal would be to increase the efficiency of deliveries and also help to reduce the time that packages sit out on porches.
Finally, drones will likely play an important role in allowing companies to deliver on next-day delivery and other fast delivery options in rural areas, which traditionally have experienced longer wait times.
What’s clear is that drones will continue to be essential to last-mile deliveries in the future and will likely play some unique role that we can’t predict yet. This is especially true as more people come to rely on and even expect same-day and faster delivery options.