We were told that drone delivery was going to be so ubiquitous, we wouldn’t think twice about it anymore. Drones would be flooding the skies, zipping about from place to place, delivering packages all around the world. But that reality hasn’t quite worked out yet – so what’s going on? We’ve taken a more in-depth look at why large-scale drone delivery hasn’t yet taken off.
1. The “last mile” problem
One of the biggest problems facing drone delivery is what’s being called the “last mile”. A drone can fly easily between two locations in the air, so long as the course is plotted correctly. That’s easy enough.
It becomes an issue when the drone actually arrives at the destination. What happens next? A deliveryman will knock on your door and deliver the package into your hands. A drone can’t do any of that. In the rather slim likelihood that it descends from the sky and gets to your door at the exact right spot without being knocked off course – we all know how inaccurate satellite navigation can be – what happens next?
The drone would presumably have to sit down at your door and wait for you to come home, or notice it. At that stage, many different things could happen. It could be picked up and taken by someone else. It could be chewed or eaten by a curious pet (or pest). It could fall down into a gutter or get hit by a rain storm that leaves it sitting in a puddle.
Until we figure out how to solve the last mile issue correctly, it’s likely that drone delivery will only work for businesses. Their entrances tend to be monitored more closely, and it might even be possible to install special drone sensors or landing areas for companies that expect a lot of drone deliveries.
2. Legal and regulatory issues
Anyone who has tried to fly a drone for recreational purposes probably already knows that there is a lot of legal red tape over the use of drones. You can’t fly them in certain areas, they must maintain certain heights, and you should always maintain a line of sight to your drone.
If delivery companies like Amazon were to stick to these regulations, they would only be able to deliver to locations in sight of their depots, which would be a bit of an anti-climax.
There needs to be a lot of work done to change the regulations for drone flying. One of the big concerns that is likely to come up is privacy. People won’t be happy with the idea of drones flying over their property, and in fact some people have already brought up this complaint.
It’s going to be tough to get those changes made, particularly in places like the US where law can vary from state to state. Imagine a situation where a drone delivery service can only fly over certain states, or certain properties in those states – it would become a logistical nightmare.
3. Technology Shortages
Finally, another big reason why drone delivery hasn’t taken off yet is the fact that the technology isn’t quite there.
Amazon’s drones can only carry small and light packages, up to the size of about a shoe box. The heavier the package, the lower the flight time will have to be, as the batteries will be taking more strain. Currently, drones simply can’t sustain a long-term flight with a heavy load.
Most of us who use drones find that this doesn’t matter – lifting a lightweight action camera is easy work for many models. We don’t require such technological advances. But for delivery drones to become a reality, there needs to be a big step forward in terms of the weight to power ratio. Drones need to be able to carry larger and heavier packages as well as flying for several hours or more to make the delivery.
Amazon says that one day, their drones in the sky will be as familiar a sight as a delivery van on the road. It’s still possible that this could happen, but it won’t be coming in time for Christmas. There’s still a lot of work to do!
Elizabeth Lee is a content manager and a blogger, currently supporting PACK & SEND – logistics experts from Australia. Interested in all aspects of creating and growing a successful business, Elizabeth is often