The drone revolution has been happening for quite some time now, and while drones have replaced traditional inspection techniques in agriculture, real estate, telecom, and energy, there’s one industry that has yet to take off with the rest of them – deliveries.
Even niche industries that use drones sparingly (such as filmmaking and surveying) have updated their practices with drones, but companies like FedEx and Amazon have yet to fully integrate drone deliveries into their business operations.
So why are drones excelling in some industries, but unable to deliver in others?
Well,it comes down to one simple thing – logistics.
When a drone is used for a typical inspection, it’s flown by a trained pilot who’s on-site with a controller in hand. A full flight usually takes less than a half hour, and the pilot ensures that take-off, data capture, and landing are all done with the client’s assets in mind. This is to minimize risk to both the drone and the client, while simultaneously ensuring that the inspection is being processed correctly.
Now, consider the risks added to the equation when the pilot is taken out of the equation.
Add in miles of flight over people/property, weather changes, and landing specifications all automated with a 10 pound payload, and you start to get the logistical nightmare that is associated with using drones for deliveries.
Drones are not toys, but that doesn’t mean they should be treated like autonomous computers. Take what happened in Switzerland, for instance.
Swiss Post and Matternet teamed up for about a year to transport lab supplies between hospitals in three different Swiss cities. However, in January one of their drones malfunctioned and crashed into Lake Zurich. Diagnostics were run and updates were put out to all of their drones, but just 5 months later, a second autonomous drone crashed – this time mere yards away from a group of kindergarteners.
When drones are flown autonomously (without a human pilot), we’re introducing a myriad of risk factors that aren’t seen in drone service industry. That’s why insurers have yet to back any drone delivery attempts in the US. The risks in drone delivery are greater than in industries that use pilots for planned flights.
But that isn’t to say the laudable goal of faster emergency services or efficient aerial delivery is unattainable. After all, even the Department of Defense is working to help expedite crisis response times with the help of drone deliveries.
But as of now, the logistical concerns associated with using drones to deliver parcels still need to be ironed out before the industry can catch up to what’s happening with drone inspections.
And while companies like UPS are trying to lobby the FAA for drone flight exemptions, until insurers can be convinced to back the unproven practice from delivery companies, you can bet that packages will remain in human hands.