After technical snarls, regulatory hiccups, and lots of naysaying, the future is finally here. The first-ever US Government approved drone delivery has finally taken place. In partnership with NASA and with approval from the Federal Aviation Authority, an Australian drone has delivered a consignment of 4.5 kg of medical supplies to a rural health clinic in Virginia.
The drone, made by Australian manufacturer Flirtey, made three 3-minute flights from Lonesome Pine Airport, Virginia, to a clinic at the Wise County Fairgrounds, carrying 24 medical packages. Flirtey chief executive Matt Sweeny said, “Proving that unmanned aircraft can deliver lifesaving medicines is an important step toward a future where unmanned aircraft make routine autonomous deliveries of your everyday purchases,”
The test delivery is proof that drones can be useful in a delivery scenario, particularly in rural and remote areas that are hard to reach via ground vehicles. Retail and shipping companies like Amazon.com and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, which have both expressed an interest in delivering via drones, are likely watching this development very closely.
So far, companies hoping to use drones to deliver small packages are confronting regulatory approvals and technical hurdles such as battery life and weather. Online companies such as Amazon have been developing the technology to make drone deliveries possible on a commercially viable scale, but rules and regulations governing their operation have held development back. Rules on drone flights in the US are currently under revision by the FAA, seeking to enable safe but regulated commercial drone flights.
Drone delivery is set to revolutionize e-commerce industries that rely on last mile delivery. Companies which are first to establish safe and scaled drone operations will have the first mover advantage. It is expected that as this technology matures and the costs to operate the service per delivery decrease, the service will become financially viable and find widespread use.