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Definition

delivery drone

Contributor(s): Sarah Lewis

A delivery drone is a type of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) used for distributing packages to consumers during the last mile delivery process. These types of drones generally have 4-8 propellers, rechargeable batteries and the ability to carry lightweight containers. They can be operated either autonomously using AI technology or remotely, with distribution centers and operators overseeing the flight. With drone technology already advancing, the capability of avoiding collisions with other drones in flight, navigating through urban landscapes and employing smart landing techniques already exists.

Benefits of drone delivery are currently being tested but could include lower costs, higher operational efficiency, new revenue streams, instantaneous fulfillment, less congested roadways, fewer accidents and lower emissions. Since delivery drones are not yet an established solution, a few of the limitations being researched are package weight limitations, flight time and range constraints due to battery life, collision avoidance systems and how to handle unpredictable events such as weather or being hacked.

As e-commerce continues to grow and traditional forms of delivery are no longer the most efficient option, delivery companies are experimenting with the implementation of drones. Businesses such as USPS, Amazon and Google have undertaken drone experiments as a feasible alternative for growth. The current most popular use cases for delivery drones are time-sensitive materials such as medicine and food or small items for same-day delivery.

Rules and regulations

While the government previously banned the testing and implementation of delivery drones in the United States, there have since been updated regulations about the concept. In 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) included guidelines for commercial drone use. The rules included a maximum weight of 55 lbs, a maximum height of 400 feet and a maximum speed of 100 mph. It also mandated that delivery drones can only be operated during the daytime by operators with a flying certificate and an age of at least sixteen.

In 2017, the United States Senate moved to work with local officials to test drone delivery initiatives. While this technology has not yet been brought to the mainstream market, it is being widely tested for various sectors and use cases.

This was last updated in December 2018

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