How likely is a drone delivery service for ecommerce?

You may think the concept of delivering your online orders by a fleet of drones is strictly science fiction but brand leader Amazon indicated its willingness to develop such a system publicly over a year ago. Now the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has agreed to Amazon testing delivery drones.

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The tests are to be carried out under stringent controls including:

  • Fly at 400 feet or below.
  • Only operating the drones in daylight.
  • Only qualified pilots will be allowed to fly the drones
  • Drones have to be within sight of the pilot at all times.

Given the experimental nature of drone delivery, these are realistic conditions but long-term, such prohibitive regulations (especially keeping the drones within the sight of the operator) would be too costly in commercial terms.

If the tests are successful and the FAA authorise a drone delivery service; will Amazon introduce this service on a countrywide basis?

Advantages of a drone delivery system:

  • Leading the way – Amazon, already a major player in ecommerce, clearly sees the kudos in developing a radical delivery system as an advantage worth pursuing. Being the first to do something makes you stick in people’s minds as innovative.
  • Increase competitiveness – Drone delivery will increase the speed of Amazon’s deliveries, making their brand and products more attractive in a very competitive marketplace.
  • Environmentally friendly – There is a positive environmental impact from this method of delivery compared to traditional deliveries by road/rail/sea or air. This will help Amazon’s ‘green’ credentials and attract buyers who value this in their supplier.

Disadvantages of a drone delivery system:

  • Privacy issues – Trespass over private property is an issue with drone delivery, especially if the drone fails and crashes on private property. Retrieving the drone and product may be difficult and costly.
  • Potential for injuries – Injuries to people if the drone is flying over them and crashes, is another issue. The feasibility of not flying over populated areas is unlikely given that most customers will live in towns or cities.
  • Insurance costs – Prohibitive Insurance costs are another deficit of this service unless the insurance companies can keep their premiums competitive.
  • Strict rules – If the FAA conditions of operating a drone delivery service are too stringent, the cost benefits of the services will be lost.

The question remains whether the available technology will be enough for major brand leaders to take a risk. More tests and more discussions are necessary before we see drones deliver goods above our heads.

Image credit: Kevin Baird

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