Watch Now

Modern Shipper Top 10: Drones

A look back at the top drone-related stories on Modern Shipper in 2021

Drone delivery reached new heights in 2021, and as a result, there was no shortage of interest in the technology. (Photo: Flytrex)

Modern Shipper launched in February with a mission of highlighting the ever-growing last mile of the supply chain. Throughout the year, we learned a lot, and our readers helped inform us of plenty more.

Looking back on the year that was, there were plenty of stories that resonated with our readers — from drones to automation, from gig workers to last-mile delivery providers. Of course, we can’t forget e-commerce, which is rapidly changing the supply chain and everything and everybody that touches it.

We thank you for taking the time out of your day to visit our site, read our articles and engage with us, whether that is through, by becoming fans of our social media channels or watching At Your Doorstep with host Kaylee Nix, the FreightWavesTV show dedicated to the last mile.

However you chose to engage with us in 2021, thank you.

Now, as we look back at 2021, here are’s 10 most popular stories related to drones.

10. Time to fly

(Photo: American Robotics)

In January, the Federal Aviation Administration gave final approval to a Marlborough, Massachusetts-based company to conduct autonomous commercial drone flights. In a press release, American Robotics Inc. said it had been approved for operation for its Scout System drones, including for operation beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) of the operator, the first known company to achieve that approval from the FAA.

Read: FAA gives approval for drone operation outside operator’s line of sight

9. Van-controlled flight

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) secured a patent for drone technology that can be paired directly with delivery vans. The system, if it comes to fruition, could enable Amazon to optimize its last-mile delivery services by outsourcing much of the work to its automated drones. The patent would enable the drone to be controlled by the van itself.

Read: Amazon secures patent for delivery van-controlled drone technology

8. Drones, drones everywhere

(Photo: istock)

Traffic congestion, roadwork and limited parking options are among the many things delivery drivers deal with when bringing cargo to customers. Delivering things by drone could address all those challenges and others. Drone delivery is still in the early stages, but some companies are experimenting with the possibilities.

Read: Six drone delivery use cases and lessons for companies to use

7. When the HorseFly flies

(Photo: Workhorse Group)

Workhorse Group (NASDAQ: WKHS) positions itself as an electric truck maker capable of using a truck-mounted drone for package delivery. With its composite body electric delivery vans in early production, the company’s aircraft business is closer to taking off. In four years, the Workhorse HorseFly drone counts hundreds of package deliveries in three states. Workhorse filed for patents in April covering key components and capabilities, including its ground control station, winch deliveries and aircraft structure.  

Read: Workhorse perfecting HorseFly truck-based drone delivery

6. Soar with an Eagle

(Photo: AgEagle)

AgEagle’s Michael Drozd talked with FreightWaves’ John Kingston about the competitive landscape for drone manufacturers, the agricultural uses that were in the company’s origins and where he sees drone use for parcel deliveries headed. “The idea of getting a pizza [with a drone is a] great idea but probably not [where] the economics need to be short term. In the short term, it’s really those higher-value, mission-critical health needs, if you will, that are really going to be pushing forward. [But] in the end, as you get closer to full autonomy, it starts to push the envelope,” he said.

Read: DronesWaves: From pharmaceuticals to pizza, how drone use could evolve

5. Drone-friendly states

(Photo: Shutterstock)

If you are a commercial drone operator — or hope to be one — the best state for you is probably North Dakota. You definitely don’t want to set up operations in Kentucky. Those two states ranked first and last, respectively, in a report from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. The report, “Which States are Prepared for the Drone Industry? A 50-State Report Card, Release 2.0,” is an attempt to identify which states are best prepared for commercial drone adoption and suggests states create “drone highways,” situated right above existing public roads.

Read: Best and worst states for drone operations

4. Drone grounded

 (Photo: Deutsche Post AG)

International shipping giant DHL is ceasing development of its Parcelcopter delivery drones, according to a report in German publication WELT. That halts the company’s nearly decadelong quest to become a leader in the emerging drone industry. “We are not continuing the Parcelcopter project,” Alexander Edenhofer, a DHL spokesman, told Benedikt Fuest of WELT. According to Fuest, the company (OCTUS: DPSGY) also said it will cease its pilot program with German manufacturer Wingcopter, through which it has been testing drone delivery of medical supplies in Tanzania.

Read: DHL pulling its Parcelcopter drone, ceasing drone development

3. Hey, where’s my package?

(Photo: Walmart)

If you live in Fayetteville, North Carolina, you can now have Starbucks delivered — not quite in your backyard yet, but soon perhaps. An Israeli drone company, Flytrex, has been testing drone delivery in North Carolina, delivering items from restaurants in the Holly Springs Towne Center to a pickup location within a five-minute drone flight. Starbucks, Dairy Queen Blizzards, pastries and light meals are among the menu items.

Flytrex is among the growing number of drone providers and companies that are hoping to cash in on a delivery market that is expected to reach more than $6 billion by 2026. The Federal Aviation Administration in late December 2020 released new regulations that will expand the opportunity for drone delivery tests.

Read: If drones can deliver Starbucks, what’s taking so long for packages?

2. Zipping off for another delivery

(Photo: Walmart)

Walmart (NYSE: WMT) customers along the Arkansas and Missouri state line are now receiving their e-commerce orders via drone delivery. The retailer and drone provider Zipline International  announced the pilot program operating out of Walmart’s Pea Ridge, Arkansas, store. The pilot went live late in 2021. Pea Ridge Mayor Jackie Crabtree told the Joplin Globe the deliveries would be mostly medical supplies, and at its peak, the service could be making as many as 15 deliveries per day.

Read: Walmart to begin drone delivery pilot this summer

1. Long-haul drones

DHL said it could use up to 4,000 heavy-cargo drones operated by Dronamics for its logistics and parcel network in Europe. The Black Swan unmanned aircraft can carry 770 pounds up to 1,500 miles. It was the second large customer Dronamics signed in three weeks after announcing a partnership with Hellmann Logistics to develop a cross-border cargo delivery service by early next year. DHL (DXE: DPW) said Dronamics would support same-day cargo delivery by covering the middle mile of a shipment’s journey in select industries and markets with time-critical requirements, such as e-commerce and pharmaceuticals. The companies will work together to establish the dedicated drone-delivery network.

Read: DHL to pilot use of large cargo drones in Europe

(Photo: Dronamics)

Click for more articles by Brian Straight.

You may also like:

Drones are flying into weather data deserts. Can they be stopped?

Navigating COVID-19 shipping chaos: Finding capacity and servicing the customer

Need a warehouse? You may have to wait 9 months

Brian Straight

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at [email protected]