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Drone technology has grown tremendously in the past two decades, revolutionizing various industries. One industry that has not been left behind is the delivery and supply chain industry.
According to McKinsey & Co, drones had delivered up to 660,000 packages by 2022. It’s also reported that drones deliver up to 2000 packages daily, and this number is expected to grow in the next couple of years.
However, it’s not all roses when it comes to drone delivery. There are limitations to how much weight can carry and regulations that sometimes limit the use of drones in delivery.
So, can drones deliver packages?
Yes, drones can deliver packages. Some of the most common packages drones have been used to deliver include food supplies, medical supplies, postal packages, and retail and e-commerce packages. However, drones are limited in the weight or quantity of packages they can carry, where most can carry packages of up to 20 pounds. They also face regulatory, weather, and other logistics challenges.
This article will review the packages that drones can deliver, their weight, quantity, and the regulations institutions need to navigate for a successful drone delivery model.
Table of contents
What Types of Packages Can Drones Deliver?
Below are the most common packages that drones are known to deliver.
Drones have been immensely helpful in delivering medical supplies in remote and inaccessible areas. This became popular during the Covid-19 pandemic but has continued even after the pandemic.
Companies like Zipline have been at the front line of delivering medical supplies and blood in rural areas in Ghana, Rwanda, Kenya, and even hurricane relief materials in Puerto Rico.
Food deliveries are another common delivery. This started way before Covid but was also popular during COVID due to the no-contact regulations. Coffee, frozen beverages, prepared take-out foods, tacos, and pizzas are some of the most common types of deliveries.
Trials to deliver postal or mail packages have occurred in countries like the UK, Singapore, Ukraine, Germany, Australia, and Switzerland.
Retail and E-Commerce:
The rise of online shopping has led to an increasing demand for efficient and fast delivery services. Drones could transport small to medium-sized retail packages, such as clothing, electronics, and consumer goods. These items typically weigh between one and ten pounds, and drones can easily accommodate such payloads.
Weight and Quantity of Considerations:
As you can see above, drones can only deliver small packages weighing up to about 20 pounds, but there are drones customized to carry up to 500 pounds.
Drones come in various sizes, each with varying payload capacities. The payload capacity of a drone determines the package it can carry or the quantity.
Drone delivery systems can handle individual and multiple packages in a single trip. Drones can transport a single package at a time for individual deliveries, ensuring efficient and timely delivery.
However, technological advancements have enabled the development of swarm drone systems, where multiple drones work together to transport multiple packages simultaneously.
This approach increases the delivery capacity and allows for the transportation of multiple packages to different destinations within a single flight. It also helps increase the ROI of drone delivery since one drone pilot can be trained to monitor several drones at a time.
Advantages of Drone Delivery:
Speed and Efficiency:
One of the primary advantages of drone delivery is it is fast and efficient.
Drones can navigate through traffic-free air spaces, avoiding congestion and delivering packages directly to their destinations. This reduces delivery times and enables rapid transportation, particularly for urgent or time-sensitive deliveries like medical supplies.
Drone delivery has the potential to be cost-effective in certain scenarios. With lower operational expenses compared to traditional delivery methods, such as trucks or couriers, drones can offer a more affordable option for last-mile deliveries, especially in remote or difficult-to-reach areas.
Drones have a smaller carbon footprint than traditional delivery methods. They run on electric power, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and contributing to a cleaner environment. This aligns with the growing demand for sustainable transportation solutions.
Disadvantages and Limitations of Drone Delivery:
One of the main limitations of drone delivery is the payload capacity.
As mentioned, most commercial drones can carry lightweight packages up to a few pounds.
This restricts the types and sizes of packages that can be transported, making it unsuitable for larger items or bulk deliveries.
Range and Battery Life:
Drones have a limited range and flight time due to battery constraints. Most consumer-grade drones can fly for approximately 20 to 30 minutes before recharging. This limits their operational radius and makes long-distance deliveries challenging.
Due to their weight and mode of operations, drones are easily affected by weather conditions, such as precipitation, strong winds, or fog.
Flying in such conditions may compromise the drone’s stability, navigation, and safety, impacting delivery schedules and reliability.
The widespread implementation of drone delivery faces regulatory challenges in many countries.
Government agencies are working to establish guidelines and regulations to ensure safe and responsible drone operations.
These regulations include restrictions on flight altitudes, no-fly zones, and privacy concerns, which may impact the scalability and deployment of drone delivery systems.
Notable Drone Delivery Projects:
In November 2016, Domino’s partnered with Flirtey to conduct the first-ever drone delivery of pizzas in Whangaparaoa, New Zealand. They successfully delivered an order of a Peri-Peri Chicken Pizza and a Chicken and Cranberry Pizza using Flirtey’s DRU Drone.
Amazon Prime Air:
Amazon has been actively developing its Prime Air drone delivery service. At the 2019 re: MARS conference, Amazon announced its plans to launch Prime Air, aiming to deliver customers’ orders within 30 minutes using GPS-guided autonomous drones.
Wing is a drone delivery service developed by Google-parent Alphabet. In partnership with FedEx and Walgreens, Wing delivers various FedEx items, including over-the-counter medicines and health and wellness products, directly to customer’s doorsteps.
UPS Flight Forward:
In 2019, UPS Flight Forward became the first drone service to receive the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval to operate as a commercial airline.
Walmart has emerged as a leading player in drone delivery, surpassing Amazon in the number of drone deliveries in 2022.
Walmart conducted over 6,000 drone deliveries that year, demonstrating its commitment to adopting drone technology for efficient and speedy deliveries.
Zipline is a notable drone delivery project focusing on delivering medical supplies. It has conducted numerous pilot projects in various countries, including Rwanda and Ghana.
Zipline’s drones have been instrumental in emergency deliveries of blood, medical samples, and COVID-19 vaccines.
Manna, an Irish drone delivery startup, gained attention during the COVID-19 pandemic by delivering essential medical goods and food to isolated residents in Moneygall, Ireland.
The company quickly adapted its operations to meet the community’s urgent needs.
Skyports has conducted drone delivery trials in the UK, specifically delivering COVID-19 kits from remote areas to hospitals.
In partnership with healthcare institutions, Skyports has demonstrated the potential of drones in transporting critical medical supplies.
Lungs Delivery for Transplant:
The University Health Network in Toronto successfully delivered lungs for transplant via drone, marking a significant milestone in organ delivery. This groundbreaking project showcased the potential of drones in saving lives and revolutionizing organ transportation.
Drone delivery represents a promising advancement in the transportation and logistics industry. While there are still limitations to overcome, such as payload capacity and regulatory challenges, the potential benefits are undeniable.
With the ability to transport lightweight packages swiftly and efficiently, drones can revolutionize last-mile delivery, improve access to remote areas, and reduce environmental impact.
As technology advances and regulations evolve, we can expect to see an increasing number of drone delivery projects emerge, transforming how we receive packages in the future.