Grandiose promises of drone deliveries have been around for years, but the recent surge of commercial and civil drone activity may spark a wider adoption.
I first addressed the state of commercial drone delivery last year.
According to a recent report by McKinsey & Co., there have been over 660,000 drone deliveries to global consumers in the last three years. As of early 2022, more than 2,000 drone deliveries occur each day worldwide. McKinsey projects global deliveries for 2022 will be close to 1.5 million, up from under half a million in 2021.
Here is a list of recent updates from companies advancing drone deliveries.
FedEx Express, a subsidiary of FedEx Corp., is teaming up with California-based Elroy Air, which is building an autonomous vertical take-off and landing aerial cargo system. FedEx Express will test Elroy Air’s Chaparral drones within FedEx’s middle-mile logistics operations, moving shipments between sortation locations autonomously.
The Chaparral aircraft can pick up 300-500 pounds of cargo autonomously and deliver it up to 300 miles by air.
FedEx and Elroy Air have been working together since January 2020 and will continue their collaboration to pursue certifications and begin flight testing in 2023.
Alphabet subsidiary Wing launched its first commercial drone delivery service in a U.S. metro area on April 7 in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex to several thousand suburban homes. The drones fly health and wellness products from Walgreens directly to customers’ homes, ice cream from Blue Bell Creameries, prescription pet medications from Easyvet, and first-aid kits from Texas Health.
In March 2022, Wing completed 200,000 all-time commercial deliveries across its global markets. In 2021, Wing completed just over 100,000 drone deliveries in Australia. Recently, it had its busiest week ever, with more than 1,000 global deliveries in a single day (one every 25 seconds).
Walmart and DroneUp, a global drone technology and services provider, have announced commercial drone delivery operations at three stores in Northwest Arkansas, operating from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., seven days per week, to deliver items to eligible Walmart customers by air in as little as 30 minutes.
“When we invested in DroneUp earlier this year, we envisioned a drone delivery operation across multiple stores,” said Tom Ward, senior vice president of last mile at Walmart U.S. “Opening our first hub within months of our initial concept showcases DroneUp’s ability to execute drone delivery operations safely and with speed.”
Domino’s and SkyDrop recently signed a deal to launch the second stage of their commercial drone delivery partnership in New Zealand. The companies plan to conduct a trial of drone delivery services from a Domino’s store in New Zealand to customers’ homes, expected to commence this year. SkyDrop or its designee will operate the test. SkyDrop’s advanced drones can conduct speedier, cheaper, and greener deliveries versus traditional methods.
Domino’s and SkyDrop partnered in 2016 to launch the first stage of drone delivery in New Zealand, delivering pizza from Domino’s Whangaparaoa store in Auckland. SkyDrop has since advanced its technology, increasing the payload of its drones to 3.5 kg (7.7 lbs) and delivery altitude up to 60 meters (197 ft). The company has incorporated a parachute system for safety and expanded production of its aircraft system in the U.S. in conjunction with the Federal Aviation Administration certification process. It also received certification from New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority.
Amazon has been testing Prime Air drone deliveries in a few rural areas of Oregon and California in the last two years. According to Business Insider, Amazon plans to expand the testing to 1,300 shoppers this year. Customers can choose from around 3,000 items weighing under 5 pounds. Amazon will offer drone services in 32 locations by 2025, delivering 1 million packages annually, free of charge to Prime customers. Ultimately, Amazon plans to operate 145 drone launchpads, flying 250 at one time and sending 500 million parcels a year by drone.
Amazon’s drone efforts have suffered setbacks, including recent crashes and missed deadlines. However, Prime Air has committed to join Amazon’s sub-same day delivery by 2024.
Last year, UPS Flight Forward began making Covid-19 vaccine deliveries via drone for Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist medical center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, using packaging from Cold Chain Technology developed for drones. UPS’s drone airline received first-of-its-kind approval from the FAA to carry alkaline and lithium batteries to power temperature monitoring devices required by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for Covid-19 vaccine transport. UPS Flight Forward worked with Cold Chain to design a custom, drone-sized case to maintain the temperature at 2 to 8 degrees Celsius.
In 2020, UPS teamed up with CVS Pharmacy to deliver prescription medicines by drone to retirement community residents in Florida. The service used Matternet’s M2 drones from three CVS locations.
Flytrex, an Israel-based drone-deliveries startup, completed a funding round for $40 million at the end of 2021, led by BRM Group, with participation from SoftBank-backed OurCrowd and Lukasz Gadowski, founder and chairman of Delivery Hero. To date, Flytex has raised a total of $60 million.
The company is working with Walmart, Chili’s, and other businesses in its North Carolina test area. “We estimate that we’ll have national approval by the first half of next year,” said Yariv Bash, Flytrex’s co-founder and CEO, in an interview. “We are in the process with the FAA, which we started more than a year ago.”
Meituan, a large online shopping, entertainment, and delivery platform in China, has been running a pilot program delivering food to Shenzhen, a city of nearly 20 million. The program is available to just seven neighborhoods and a select number of merchants, and the drones deliver to designated streetside kiosks. Over the past two years, Meituan has flown 19,000 meals to 8,000 customers.
Manna runs a drone delivery program in Galway, Ireland, with authorization to take it across the European Union. Upon reaching a customer’s home, a drone will scan the area with lidar and radar to find a safe spot, descend, drop off the product, and fly off for its next pick-up. Manna runs 2,000 to 3,000 flights per day with fully autonomous drones at 50 miles per hour.
Abu Dhabi Department of Health announced that the Emirate of Abu Dhabi is adopting advanced drones to distribute and transfer medical supplies within the healthcare sector. The project collaborates between the DoH, the General Civil Aviation Authority, SkyGo (a drone provider), and Matternet, the logistics service. Drones deliver medicine, blood units, vaccines, and samples between laboratories, pharmacies, and healthcare facilities around the city.