The Jeff Bezos dream of drone delivery was first revealed way back in 2013. But now, nearly eight years later, we’re not even close to achieving it. Only one company so far has demonstrated the capabilities to execute thousands of drone deliveries at scale to customers (and we’re not talking hand-selected test subjects). And that company isn’t Amazon. It’s Wing the drone company affiliated with Google.
Wing is one of just a few drone delivery companies out there that has actually executed real deliveries to people’s homes — and not just as test flights. And it likely holds the title for most drone deliveries at that, having made 100,000 deliveries thus far.
Most of those deliveries occurred this year, and they were primarily flown in Logan, Australia.
What other companies are doing to execute the Jeff Bezos dream of drone delivery
In short, not a ton. Most other entrants in the drone delivery space have struggled to turn drone deliveries into viable business models. Sure, we’ve seen plenty of one-off stunt flights. Media went wild for headlines like the first-ship-to-shore drone delivery, the first FAA-approved drone delivery to a customer’s home and the first urban drone delivery. We saw one-off or limited-time deliveries of Domino’s Pizza, Coca-Cola, and even at-home COVID tests.
But if you’re just a regular person in a regular house, your Domino’s Pizza will still arrive in a regular old car.
Outside of those one-off stunts, some companies have had some success, but nothing close to achieving the Jeff Bezos dream of drone delivery. India-based food delivery app Swiggy announced in June 2020 that it would begin food deliveries via drone.
Flights didn’t actually begin until a year later in June 2021, and even those are being done as trials. Swiggy’s drone delivery flights are actually done in partnership with a couple other drone companies: ANRA Technologies and BetterDrones.
A spokesperson for ANRA told The Drone Girl that since June 2021, it has completed 100 hours of flight time delivering food and medicine beyond visual line of sight in India.
That’s about 350 package deliveries in roughly two months. For context, Wing made almost 4,500 deliveries to residents of Logan Australia in the first week of August 2021 alone.
Zipline is likely the closest contender behind Wing in terms of drone deliveries. It was ranked by German analytics firm Drone Industry Insights as the top drone delivery company of 2020. The company has delivered important medical supplies in a few countries in Africa and — since coronavirus — began operations in the U.S. to delivery PPE and other COVID-19 medical supplies to hospitals.
Andreas Raptopoulos, CEO of Matternet which is another country focused on delivering items to developing countries via drone has previously said that in countries where there is a pressing need, regulatory hurdles are generally overcome more quickly.
Why is drone delivery so hard?
A huge factor in drone deliveries is getting government approvals. After all, delivery drones often fly over people. And for them to be viable, they almost certainly have to fly beyond the operator’s visual line of sight. The former is illegal without certain special approvals in some places, and the latter is illegal without special approvals in almost all places.
Right now, ANRA is the only UAS technology provider approved by the Government of India to lead two consortia on a drone delivery initiative. Though, the Indian government is seeking “to fast-track its policies and prepare the local industry for a significant push into the global drone services segment,” according to a prepared statement from ANRA.
In the U.S., Federal Aviation Administration chief Steve Dickson has specifically called out how onerous such restrictions are.
“They’re not up to the task,” Dickson said in a keynote speech at the August 2021 AUVSI conference, in reference to current BVLOS rules. “For one thing, approving operations on a case-by-case basis is not a feasible or efficient way forward. It’s not feasible or efficient for the agency. It’s not efficient for manufacturers. And it doesn’t give us the kind of certainty that we really need to scale operations around the national airspace.”
Dickson also acknowledged that regulation is often seen as a “drag” on the drone industry’s momentum. U.S. drone deliveries should become easier next year though. That’s because, earlier this summer, the FAA announced its new BVLOS Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC to help the FAA develop a regulatory path for routine BVLOS flights. Two of the committee’s members include representatives from both Amazon Prime Air and Wing, and the committee is expected to propose recommendations later this year.
But other challenges to drone delvery have nothing to do with technology or policy.
“The flight team overcame numerous challenges, ranging from heavy rains during monsoon season to COVID quarantines, while often drawing attention from curious onlookers that wanted to see the technology in action,” a spokesperson for ANRA told The Drone Girl.