The idea of drone delivery for useful things is a lot more fun to think about than drones used for dropping bombs and killing people with death rays.
This guide does not cover any military or law enforcement uses. Instead, we will discuss the cool stuff regarding drone delivery to business and consumers along with improvements in emergency response systems.
Drones are already capable of being deployed for many types of delivery services such as pizzas in urban environments and desperately-needed medicine flown by drones to remote inaccessible villages.
While Elon Musk concentrates on landing on Mars, perhaps you are the next potential gazillionaire that will make a fortune flying and landing drones on Earth. There are already plenty of opportunities for those interested in flying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for fun and for commercial purposes.
In many instances, drone technology advanced so quickly that it runs afoul of the local laws. For example, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States says that, without special permission, a drone needs to be flown in the line-of-sight of the operator and a drone cannot be flown from a moving vehicle.
Well, that takes some of the fun out of drone delivery from moving pizza vans and in locations where it is not possible to easily see everywhere in the delivery area. Pizza-delivery observation towers may become a new industry in America because of this FAA legal limitation.
This guide takes a look at the state of global drone delivery worldwide to learn more about what is legal and what innovations are occurring.
It highlights what tests are being conducted, what big companies and startups are doing, and where it is possible to see the technology in action. There is funding available for this industry sector to support the next great big disruptive idea.
Read this global survey guide to learn more about what drone delivery can do right now and what this exciting technology will be able to achieve in the future.
Societal Benefits of Drone Delivery
Some of the societal benefits are economic considerations, improvements in emergency response systems, overcoming delivery problems to remote areas, and pollution reduction.
The most difficult part of any delivery challenge is the final portion that is called “the last mile.” This portion of the delivery pathway is from the warehouse to the customer’s home or office. It may be longer or shorter than a physical mile; however, it is the last leg of the journey. Drone delivery is faster and saves money on fuel costs, fleet maintenance of commercial vehicles, and labor costs for human drivers.
Improvements in Emergency Response and Healthcare
In some emergency situations, only a few minutes may make the difference between whether someone lives or dies. Delivery drones can bring first aid supplies, needed medicines, blood, and medical equipment. For example, those suffering from a heart attack might get help from an emergency drone. This drone maintains communication contact with paramedics and can deliver a portable defibrillator. A defibrillator is a device that uses a strong electric pulse to restart the heart. The paramedics are able to observe through remote video what is happening and instruct the people giving aid to the heart-attack victim on how to use the defibrillator.
Drones fly on battery power. If the batteries a recharged by renewal-energy systems, such as solar power, the air flight is pollution free. The only downside to drone use is that they make a buzzing noise when they fly. It is not very noticeable when a single drone is in flying up the air; however, a drone is quite noisy when it is nearby. In the future, there may be overly-active, drone-flying corridors that are constantly buzzing.
To solve the noise pollution problem, an inventor, named Edgar Herrera, developed a blade-less drone. It flies in complete silence. The drone is not yet in production; however, the design is spectacular. Herrera is probably one of the next gazillionaires we talked about because this invention solves a huge problem. Solar-powered, silent-flying, drone delivery is a really great idea that takes this whole concept to the next level.
Safety concerns regarding drone delivery include damage and injury caused by accidents, privacy issues, security, and package interference from stealing or vandalism.
Like any equipment, drones can be involved in accidents. For this reason, right now (December 2018) in the United States, it is illegal to fly a drone over any part of another person. Fortune says that the FAA did a study in 2017 to determine the potential injuries caused by getting hit in the head by a drone dropping out of the sky. Surprisingly, the FAA concluded that getting hit in the head by a drone is less dangerous than if the same weight of wood or steel is used.
If a drone losses power, it glides down a bit slower than how a steel plate falls. However, the blades of a drone can cut and dangerous injury can result when being hit on the head. Also, there is the weight of any item that is being carried by a delivery drone to worry about.
Using drones equipped with emergency parachutes, which automatically deploy for power losses, can help reduce crash damage and injuries. There are plenty of opportunities for entrepreneurs to improve drone-flying safety.
A report published the RIMMA noted that so far there have been no fatalities from a commercial drone crash. However, there have been quite a few near misses and plenty of injuries. When drones crash, sometimes they do so in crazy ways.
Here are some of the surprising commercial drone crashes reported by Tech Republic:
Yellowstone National Park: A drone flown by a tourist crashed into a hot spring.
Drone Fights Hawk: In Cambridge, Massachusetts a hawk attacked a drone. The hawk won.
Seattle Space Needle: A drone was capturing footage for the 2016/2017 New Year’s Eve Show when it crashed into this tower.
Drone Smashes Window: In 2016, a drone smashed through an office window in Cape Town, South Africa. It hit a man in the head.
Crash on the White House Lawn: The drone operator, Shawn Usman, lost control of his drone that crashed due to a technological failure. Usman was not charged with a crime.
Privacy is a big concern for many people who worry about commercial drone use. This is one reason why legislation came into being all over the world to prevent using commercial drones to spy on people. In many places, this is now a crime.
Authorities are concerned about delivery drones being used for terrorist acts or criminal purposes. In Europe, the study published by the RIMMA noted that drones have flown over nuclear power plants, drones are used to smuggle things into prisons, and drones carry drugs across the U.S./Mexican border.
These are some of the reasons why legislation has been put in place all over the world to protect critical infrastructure from unauthorized drone surveillance or attack. Commercial drone flyers that operate a drone delivery service need to be careful not to break these laws or lose control of their drones that are hijacked because of the stiff penalties and the possibility of incarceration.
Consumers have other concerns regarding drone delivery services besides safety, privacy, and security. eMarketer reports than 72% of consumers worry about problems with packages, such as theft or damage. It is fairly easy to imagine that bad people might find it fun to shoot down flying drones and that thieves would want to steal the packages that they leave behind.
Drones equipped with video surveillance technology can reduce these criminal risks; however, these cameras cause privacy and security issues to arise. This is an area of opportunity, where entrepreneurs can focus on providing solutions.
Top Drone Delivery Companies
Wikipedia lists the some of the top drone delivery companies that carry consumer goods, medicines, emergency first aid, and food.
Here are the top companies in alphabetical order:
7-Eleven partnered with Flirtey to make the first FAA-approved home delivery in July 2016. Once the FAA approves of urban drone-delivery services, this company will launch a national deployment program.
This is Iceland’s largest e-commerce website that partnered with an Israeli company, called Flytrex. AHA has been delivering consumer goods and food by drones in Iceland since 2017. Delivery times for consumers went down from an average of thirty minutes to less than five minutes. Food arrives hot from the ovens.
In February 2015, Alibaba partnered with the courier company Shanghai YTO Express to deliver tea by commercial drones to 450 customers in certain Chinese cities.
Google has many ongoing drone programs and tests underway including Alphabet X, which partnered with Chipotle Mexican Grill to deliver food to the cafeterias on the Virginia Tech Campus. Since 2014, Alphabet X has been testing drone delivery service ins Australia to deliver both consumer items and much heavier things such as building materials. Project Wing delivers medicines and burritos in rural areas.
Many think of Amazon simply as the largest online retailer. While that moniker is true, the company can be more accurately described as the world’s most efficient logistics retailer. The business model is not so much about generating retails sales as it is about the delivery of products at lower prices in a faster way.
The New York Times reports that in 2013 Amazon publicly announced its major commitment to commercial drone delivery. Since then, the company invested heavily to continue to evolve its drone-delivery program.
Amazon plans to give its Prime-member customers drone delivery service options under the banner of Amazon Prime Air (YouTube video). Flying drone warehouses and commercial delivery drones (YouTube video) will eventually become common place. It is not a matter of if this will happen, only a matter of when it will happen.
Amazon already has warehouses strategically placed as close to its customers as possible. The New York Times reports that by using autonomous delivery by drones, Amazon could save half of its delivery costs within ten years. Drones become even more attractive when considering that the fuel cost for delivery vehicles is increasing and the road infrastructure in many parts of the world, including America, is deteriorating.
Using a drone avoids any traffic congestion problems, bad roads, and reduces the travel time to the customer’s location by using a direct flight path, which is the shortest route. Already, Amazon offers same-day delivery in many areas. With the use of drones, the delivery could be within an hour. This convenience comes along with savings on the shipping costs, so it is a win-win situation for Amazon and its customers.
CNN reports that Amazon filed for patents for its drone delivery “beehives.” In 2016, Amazon successfully demonstrated Prime Air in the UK. The following year, in March 2017, it made its first drone delivery under a test in the United States.
Regulations in the US and the UK, which require drones only to fly within the sight of the operator, at this time, block the full deployment of the new Prime Air system in America. However, this is changing. The Sun reports that new regulations in the UK will permit drone delivery by Amazon in 2019 or 2020.
Amazon is leading the push for improving drone delivery regulations that many others can follow. In the European Union, Amazon’s plans are moving along well. There is legislation in the works that will create regulated airspace for commercial drone flying. Amazon is making faster progress in Europe and the UK, where deployment is expected in 2019 or 2020.
In January 2018, Boeing debuted its cargo-carrying drone in Missouri, USA, which can fly with up to 500 lbs. of cargo.
In December of 2013, DHL started delivering medicines using drones in Germany.
Domino’s started testing pizza delivery in 2013 in the US, UK, India, and Russia. In 2016, the company partnered with Flirtey to launch a commercial delivery service in New Zealand.
FedEx started testing drones in 2014 and plans to integrate them into its delivery services.
This company is based in Reno, Nevada. It has created many historical-firsts for drone deliveries that include foods, medicine, and support for emergency services. The company encourages other companies, including major international corporations, to partner with it so Flirtey can provide drone delivery services.
In 2016, Flirtey received FAA approval to use drones to deliver medicine to a rural area in Nevada. In 2017, the company announced a partnership to deliver defibrillators and emergency medicine to other parts of the U.S.
This Chinese company is pursuing a massive and rapid expansion of a commercial drone delivery system in the four most-populated provinces in China. The drones fly from centralized warehouses to locally-designated landing pads. More than 300,000 local delivery operators then take the packages to the nearby homes. This company has small commercial drones that can fly up to 62 mph (100 kph) and carry up to 66 lbs. (30 kg). It also has a very large commercial drone that can carry up to one metric ton (2,200 lbs.).
In 2017, this hotel chain tested using DJI indoor-flying drones to deliver drinks to guest tables at many of its properties.
Zipline International started a drone delivery program in 2001, in cooperation with the government of Rwanda, to deliver urgent medicine, blood, and vaccines to remote areas that are very difficult to reach by other modes of travel.
Funding of Drone Delivery Startups
Here are some of the drone delivery startup companies that DAV says are leading the pack with innovation and the amounts they raised in startup funding:
Matternet: $16 Million in June 2018. Techcrunch reports that Boeing was a lead investor in this company.
Flirtey: $16.2 million since it began in 2015. This company partners with other companies to provide drone-delivery services.
Flytrex: $3 million in January 2017. This Israeli-based company develops drone delivery programs for other companies.
Skycart: Funded by private investors (amount not disclosed). This is a California-based drone-delivery service startup.
Drone Terminus: Bootstrap, self-funded (as of December 2018). Working to improve landing sensors for safer endpoint deliveries.
Scorpiox Technologies: Bootstrap, self-funded (as of December 2018). Creating improvements in fleet drone-flying of up to 250 simultaneous units by using their AirMatrix mapping systems.
BLKTATU: Bootstrap, self-funded (as of December 2018). Specializing in drone delivery to high-rise buildings.
State of Drone Delivery by Country or Region
Here is a summary of the latest laws and regulations along with the use of commercial flying drones for government services and consumer deliverables.
The FAA has been slow to allow commercial drones for delivery services. Drone flying is still restricted to line-of-sight, which makes drone delivery less efficient and not possible in all areas.
In 2015, the USPS starting testing postal delivery using Horsefly drones. Since October 2017, REMSA, an ambulance and emergency services company partnered with Flirtey to deliver portable defibrillators for 911 emergency calls in northern Nevada.
Fortune reports that Uber is testing food delivery by drones. Alphabet (Google), FedEx, Intel, and Qualcomm are working with the Department of Transportation on commercial testing of drone delivery services.
Forbes reports that big efforts are being made by Amazon, Target, Walmart, and many others to incorporate a viable, commercial drone-delivery service in their long-term strategic and logistics plans.
The UK is moving faster than the US to approve the widespread deployment of commercial drones, which should hit the market in 2019 or 2020. Amazon has made significant advancements in the UK.
The European Union is in the process of creating laws to regulate commercial drone-flying corridors of airspace called U-Space to allow a wide deployment of drone delivery services.
Since March 2017, in Switzerland, Matternet now works with the government mail system, Swiss Post, to deliver emergency medical supplies. In December 2014, the French postal service, La Poste began testing drone delivery systems.
In Canada, there are over 1,000 remote communities that have a difficult time getting supplies. A company named Drone Delivery Canada works with the Canadian government to test long-distance drone delivery flights that go out of the operator's sight and are able to operate at night. An October 3, 2018 press release said the test was 100% successful.
Zipline International works with the government of Rwanda. In 2016, the company built a distribution center in the city of Muhanga as its drone-delivery headquarters. It flies commercial drones to 21 other locations in Rwanda to deliver needed medical supplies.
In 2015, the Australia Post started testing drone delivery of mail and packages. Deployment to serve some remote areas started in 2016. Recently, Australian regulations changed to allow a drone-delivery system test over populated areas. These drone flights are an exception to regulations that currently (December 2018) prohibit flying commercial drones over people in cities.
The Chinese government is embracing and rapidly advancing drone technology and granting many permits to allow large companies like Alibaba and JD.com to use drone delivery methods.
SingPost has been testing mail delivery services by drones since 2016.
Drones use in South America is increasing rapidly. Drone delivery of vital necessities to remote areas is extremely efficient and practical. An innovation is using drone delivery methods, not by the Amazon Company, but to the Amazon geographical region.
WeRobotics has an operation in the country of Peru called Peru Flying Labs (YouTube video). They work with the Peruvian government. They tested using a drone to fly anti-venom for snakebites to remote villages. Normally, the transportation would take about six hours by jeep through the thick jungle. The drone flight only took 35 minutes to reach the remote area with the life-saving anti-venom.
In May 2015, the South Korean Ministry of Public Safety and Security launched a partnership with the private company, CJ Express, to deliver disaster relief by drones.
United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.)
The U.A.E. launched a new government program in 2014, which uses commercial UAVs to deliver official documents. The system delivers passports, driver’s licenses, identification cards, and emergency medical supplies. To identify the person receiving the delivery, this system uses the biometrics of fingerprints or retinal scans.
How Drone Delivery Might Look In 2019
If the regulators cooperate, commercial drone delivery will become a widespread reality to be enjoyed by consumers and those in need of urgent medical supplies and emergency services worldwide.
The most-likely, large-scale, commercial drone-delivery deployments may occur in Europe, the UK, and in Australia during 2019 with Amazon and Google leading the way. In China, JD.com is moving ahead with widespread deployment very quickly and Alibaba is advancing as well using drone delivery to support offshore islands.
McKinsey reports that the drone delivery industry in the USA alone, grew from $40 million in 2012 to $1 billion in 2017. Madison estimates the global market depends on what happens with the regulations. Ultimately, the global market for commercial drones may reach over $127 billion annually.
The Drone Delivery Bucket List
Here is a list of places where a person can experience the wonders of drone deliveries right now (November/December 2018) and have great fun while traveling the world to enjoy the experience:
North South Wales/Australian Capital Territory Border, Australia – Guzman y Gomez Mexican Taqueria (YouTube video)
Mumbai, India - Francesco’s Pizza (YouTube video)
Lunch While Golfing
King’s Walk, North Dakota, USA (YouTube video)
Champagne: Sausalito (near San Francisco) California, USA - Casa Madrone Hotel Luxury Suite at $10,000 per night! (YouTube news)
Drone delivery is a market sector that is still in its infancy. Major players like Amazon, Google, Uber, and others are making significant investments to get ready for widespread commercial deployments.
Legislation is lagging behind the market developments. In many places the laws are too restrictive. However, this is slowly changing for the better. There are plenty of potentially huge markets.
Moreover, there are lots of ways that entrepreneurs can make money flying commercial drones for delivery services or by providing support services to this rapidly-emerging industry sector.