Amazon gets green light for expanded drone deliveries

The FAA has given Amazon’s Prime Air additional permissions which allows the company to operate its drones beyond visual line of sight - Amazon

One consumer claims her drone-delivered popsicles were still frozen.

We’ve known this day’s been coming for a while – the day when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gives shipping companies and retailers the all-clear to fly fleets of drones to our homes and offices to drop off packages. That day is now here.

While Walmart has added “drone delivery” to its in-app delivery options for customers in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, Amazon may have just leapfrogged Walmart in this new era delivery contest.

The FAA has given Amazon’s Prime Air additional permissions which allows the company to operate its drones beyond visual line of sight, essentially setting the stage for Amazon to serve more customers via drone and effectively expand and scale its drone delivery operations. 

This permission didn’t come easy, either. Amazon was pressed to develop technology that would “detect-and-avoid” other objects in its path and after years of developing, testing, and refining that onboard system, it was able to convince the FAA it had things under control. The company’s engineers were even able to build in the stability necessary to fly its drones in light rain.

However, there are limitations. You won’t be able to order a new bed or a rocking chair and get it delivered via drone, but Prime Air has the ability to deliver packages five pounds and under in less than an hour.

That means more Amazon customers than ever before will be eligible to choose from thousands of items for drone delivery, including household essentials and beauty and drugstore products. In the coming months, drone deliveries will be integrated into Amazon's delivery network, which will result in faster delivery of even more products to Amazon customers.

More drones are probably on the way

A number of companies are also working towards or already conducting drone deliveries, in addition to Walmart and Amazon. First, there’s – guess who – Google!

Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has been testing Wing, a drone delivery service that will focus on drone delivery of food and beverages, health and wellness products, and small household items like phone chargers, batteries, and other essentials.

Other companies investing in drone delivery include:

Zipline: Initially focused on medical deliveries in remote areas, Zipline has recently expanded its service by integrating into Mayo Clinic’s campuses in Jacksonville, Florida and Rochester, Minnesota. 

UPS, FedEx, and DHL: None of the major consumer delivery services are dragging their feet in drone delivery, either. UPS has received FAA certification for drone airline operations, focusing on medical deliveries and exploring other applications.

FedEx has also been exploring drone technology for package deliveries, focusing on integrating drones into their existing logistics network to improve delivery efficiency.

DHL has also been testing drone deliveries overseas to try and get the kinks out, particularly in remote and hard-to-reach areas. 

So what about food?

Food delivery is currently being covered by companies like UberEats and DoorDash. However, those drivers have to navigate through traffic. 

But drone delivery, when done right, can cut all those negatives out of the equation. DroneUp – a company that’s already got drone delivery deals in place with 7-11 and Chick-fil-A – told ConsumerAffairs that it believes it can get an order from Chick-fil-A to a house in the suburbs in 15 minutes or less. And there’s one person in the Arkansas Ozarks who can attest to that.

In an interview with USAToday, Cyndi Sanders said she’s used the DroneUp service at least 100 times and finds it “incredibly convenient."

"We've ordered all sorts of things, even frozen popsicles, and they arrive perfectly frozen. It's a fantastic service. DroneUp has saved us on dinner nights, and it's just a cool way to get what you need,” Sanders said.

"This system gets you what you need in under 30 minutes, not hours or days," DroneUp CEO Tom Walker contends, claiming that DroneUp's proprietary technology ensures that your order, whether from Walmart or Chick-fil-A, arrives fresh and fast, well before your fries get cold or your drink loses its fizz. If that’s true and something a consumer can depend on, we all may be standing on our front porch waiting for our fries and pies in the skies before long.

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