The path leading to a radical change in the delivery chain using land moving robots and drones flying over our heads is still quite long.
As any long journey, it starts with a small somehow insignificant step. And this step has just taken place in Reno, Nevada, with the delivery of a few sandwiches and Slurpees from a 7-Eleven to a customer’s residence.
The company providing the service, Flirtey, made the delivery on July 22nd, 2016. What is notable is that the test (because this is what it is) was the first approved autonomous drone delivery by FAA (the Federal Aviation Administration under which falls the regulation of drones operation). The company made other FAA approved deliveries in July (of medical supply) but they were made, as required by FAA with an operator keeping the drone in the line of sight.
The strict rules imposed by the FAA has forced Amazon to move its drone delivery test to UK.
Flirtey and 7-Eleven plan to expand the tests in Reno over the coming months.
There are obviously technical issues, although most of the hurdles, at least from my point of view are regulatory and economics.
Regulation is now quite strict, differs by Countries and even by regions within a Country, and it is like to change over time by becoming more permissive as more and more tests are performed, and then go back to be stricter as some incidents occur (which is a sure bet, we have plenty of car accidents, even after hundred years of “experience”). In this area one of the crucial issue is the one of accountability: who is responsible is something wrong happens?
The other aspect is the economic cost. The delivery chain is really sophisticated and has been finely tuned in the last fifty years becoming more and more efficient. Bringing autonomous vehicle (roaming bots and flying drones) to the same level of efficiency will require several years, if not decades. Hence my bet is that we will see autonomous delivery occurring in selected niches, gradually expanding over time…