2016 was a buzz year for drone crafts. The technology gained instant coverage across different industries and media sites as more companies created drones or were rumored to have one in the works.
Various logistics industry specialists also came out to assess the role of delivery drones in the landscape of logistics and last mile and predicted that drones have the potential to disrupt and reduce costs associated with traditional supply chain.
Logistics companies and retailers such as Amazon and Walmart have invested in pilot projects, but no drone has yet been commercialized. Logistics players such as DHL and Flirtey have successfully completed a few drone deliveries but are currently still in trial period.
With so much chatter in the drone conversation, which companies in our industry have actually shown progress in drone deliveries? We take a look:
Having operated a drone research project since 2013, DHL reportedly made a trip around a mountainous area in Bavaria, Germany area three times faster than cars with its “parcelcopter” in May 2016.
“We have achieved a level of technical and procedural maturity to eventually allow for field trials in urban areas as well,” said DHL manager Jürgen Gerdes.
The delivery giant also reported to have built an automated system that can deliver packages such as medical supplies between two remote Bavarian villages. End-customers were able to visit a DHL “skyports” location where it stores the drones during the trial period in November 2016, insert their package into an allocated box and input a code that activates the drone.
DHL is also the first to apply to be a part of the mobile controlled UAV traffic research project, which will be effective this year.
Amazon already has a plane, a credit card, an employee-less grocery store so naturally the giant would have a drone delivery system they coin Prime Air. The company expects the drones to transport packages safely to customers within 30 minutes.
According to recent reports, Amazon has filmed for permission to run tests on experimental wireless communications technology – possibly to bolster Prime Air. Tests will take place at Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle before moving to its customer service facility in Kennewick, Washington.
If the requested tests are indeed related to Prime Air, it highlights how serious Amazon is about implementing drone delivery on a large scale. The senior manager of Amazon’s drone delivery service is Neil Woodward, a retired astronaut, and is listed as the primary contact on documents submitted by Amazon to the Federal Communications Commission regarding base stations for the wireless comms technology.
UPS made headlines in October 2016 when the package delivery giant sent a drone to deliver an asthma inhaler to a children’s summer camp on an island just off Massachusetts in the US.
According to UPS, the company is focusing on using drones to fly in remote locations to deliver emergency supplies. A more widespread delivery service is years away into the future.
Diamler, the manufacturer of Mercedes Benz has been taking very active strides in drone innovation this past year. From its drone-equipped delivery van concept in September 2016 to its most recent $17 million investment in London based Startship technologies, a delivery drone startup.
Diamler’s drones aim to change last mile deliveries by integrating an advanced routing solution, which will provide information on where to place a package or whether a signature is required. It will still have to maneuver between the drone regulations set by the FAA in the US though.
In collaboration with the Federal Aviation Administration and NASA, Walmart was developing internally autonomous drone technology that allows a quad-copter drone to take 30 images per second from a top-mounted camera, as well as deliver parcels. This was back in June 2016.
The Walmart drone is most likely still in the development phase, but the company plans to integrate the drones into all of its distribution centers in the future.
The buzz surrounding Alibaba’s Taobao drone started to circulate last February. Taobao ran a real world test that lets 450 people in Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai order ginger tea and receive it within the hour. The test period only lasted for 2 days, but it was one of the first practical instances of drone delivery in urban areas.
Since then, the Taobao drone has been PR shy.
7-Eleven actually got a head start in the drone race, beating everyone by being the first to successfully complete a regular drone delivery to consumers in the US in December 2016. Approximately over 70 orders were placed in Reno, Nevada and received doorstep drone treatment.
According to Flirtey, the average delivery time was 10 minutes. Customers mainly ordered snacks and beverages, including over the counter medicine.
Slurpees and sandwiches could be widely delivered within the US via drones in the near future.
Which logistics company or retailer do you think should pilot drones next? Is Southeast Asia too far away from launching commercial drones or would the bustling streets of Bangkok and Jakarta be prime locations for drones in the future? Let us know in the comments.