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Drone delivery execs weigh in on industry’s future

Industry leaders look 5 years down the road

The sky is the limit for drone delivery (Photo: Flytrex)

Drone delivery has done some pretty incredible things in 2021. Drones have delivered to bustling cities, some of the most remote locations on Earth and even your backyard; they’ve airdropped everything from chicken wings to blood transfusions; and they’ve grabbed the attention (and lightened the coffers) of massive companies like Alphabet and FedEx.

But drone delivery has yet to really take off. Despite drone delivery companies demonstrating technology that can enable automated takeoffs and landings, flights spanning hundreds of miles, and drones that pilot themselves, drone deliveries by and large have been on a selective basis. That has limited flights to companies with FAA approval and subjected them to certain restrictions, such as having to fly within the operator’s line of sight.

Watch: Delivering everything with drones

Yet the value proposition for drone delivery remains tantalizing –– early indications suggest that commercial drone deliveries will be far cheaper than car-based services, and they could also reduce the environmental impact of delivery.

So what’s ahead for drone delivery? Modern Shipper asked drone delivery CEOs, “What’s in store for the industry over the next five years?” so you can hear predictions straight from the folks taking delivery to the skies.

Yariv Bash, CEO and co-founder, Flytrex

Bash’s company Flytrex is focused on suburban deliveries and currently operates in North Carolina, where it delivers food and parcels directly to customers’ backyards.

“In five years, drone delivery will be a standard in on-demand delivery. The efficiency, speed, economic benefits and sustainability of drones will be embraced by retailers, making it a key go-to option for delivery at scale. While traditional couriers are only able to make around two deliveries per hour by car, a single drone operator can perform more than 10 deliveries per hour, allowing everyone everywhere to enjoy the convenience of swift and sustainable on-demand delivery.

“As on-demand services continue to gain momentum, the desire for instant gratification will only increase as more consumers get used to the ease and convenience of ultrafast delivery. Out of toothpaste? Missing an ingredient? Need just the right tool? Burn your dinner and kids are famished? Any item can be delivered to your front door (or backyard) within five minutes, anytime.

“As drones gain traction in the delivery space, traditional delivery methods — along with all of their disadvantages — will become less and less attractive, leading to less congestion on the roads, fewer accidents and less pollution (drones are 100% electric).”

Dan O’Toole, CEO and founder, DroneDek

O’Toole and DroneDek are the makers of “the mailbox of the future,” a new kind of receptacle that can receive deliveries from drones as well as traditional methods.

“Within five years, we believe you’ll see drones whizzing through U.S. neighborhoods and office parks headed for smart mailboxes as commonly as you see delivery vans now. The drone package delivery market is expected to reach $18.65 billion by 2028, according to the latest analysis by Emergen Research, so we don’t think this is fantastical at all.

“We’re one of the few companies thinking about where all those packages will end up. DroneDek solves the last inch of the last mile of package delivery with its smart mailbox, which offers an app-controlled, climate-controlled and –– most importantly –– secure receptacle. DroneDek smart mailboxes will be used by consumers as well as businesses, with the first roll-out coming in Q2 2022.

“As drone delivery becomes more common, we think the demand for secure receptacles like DroneDek smart mailboxes will grow. People just won’t stand for their packages to be stolen as they are today. We think smart mailboxes will be like cell phones: something everyone will have (or at least want) within five years or sooner. That will require relaxed regulations, and we expect that to start happening in earnest next year.”

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Conor French, general counsel, Zipline

Zipline has been a disruptor in drone delivery for years, mainly homing in on humanitarian deliveries to rural and hard-to-reach areas.

“Put simply, the future of drone delivery is more deliveries. This year, and particularly this holiday season, we’ve seen our existing logistics systems strained to their breaking point. Across industries, there’s a need for faster, more agile, more sustainable delivery options to augment and, in some cases, replace the usual trucks and vans.

“We know [unmanned aircraft systems] technology is ready to meet this moment. At Zipline, we’ve proven that automated, on-demand delivery can be rolled out at national scale, and we’ve seen the impact that’s possible for systems, communities and individuals when it is. Now, our industry is experiencing skyrocketing demand from companies across retail and health care looking to solve last-mile delivery challenges, offer contactless options, provide faster deliveries or just serve their customers and patients more effectively.

“Over the next five years, we’ll continue to see this uptick in demand across new industries and use cases, and we’ll likely see regulatory progress from aviation authorities around the world eager to bring the benefits of autonomous aircraft to their residents. The result? Widespread automated, on-demand deliveries that improve more people’s lives. We are only starting to scratch the surface of what’s possible with this technology; in the next five years, this industry will truly take off.”

Cameron Chell, CEO, Draganfly

Chell’s company Draganfly (NASDAQ: DPRO) has been making drones since the ’90s, before drone delivery was even on the public’s radar, and is now working with the Drone Racing League to advance drone delivery technology.

“I predict that five years from now, drones will be well on their way to being an integrated part of our consumer economy, as well as critical infrastructure and services. The underpinnings of drone airways and an integrated logistics system will be in place. The entire platform will not be pervasive in five years, but multiple major regional systems will be in operational mode. 

“Critical services like EMS, disaster response, and search and rescue will be in place in multiple areas, as well as having yearly government budgets being allocated to expanding these services. Larger and more complex drone systems will be in the later stages of testing, and the birth of a multibillion- — if not trillion- — dollar industry will be at hand. 

“The first real steps in this scaling are all about autonomy and integrated systems. This, along with regulation, is moving forward, but it still has a ways to go. Five years from now, the basics of this system will be coming together, and the dawn of the drone age will be evident and about to exponentially take off.”

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Jack Daleo

Jack is a staff writer for FreightWaves and Modern Shipper covering topics like last mile delivery and e-commerce fulfillment. He studied at Northwestern University, majoring in journalism with a certificate in integrated marketing communications. Previously, Jack has written for Backpacker Magazine and enjoys travel, the outdoors, and all things basketball.