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The Latest On The Drones Race

There’s nothing in the world of fulfillment services quite as exciting as the race to the end of the endurance marathon that has been the drone wars.

When Amazon first announced plans to offer delivery via drone in 2013, absolutely everyone believed it was a flight of fantasy, but in August of 2016, the Federal Aviation Agency issued its first set of rules to cover commercial drone operation.

Companies Were Already Prepared for FAA Rules

In anticipation of the historic FAA rules, companies across the spectrum have been experimenting with their own delivery drones for several months or, in some cases, years.

Today, the field is packed, with drone news coming from the shippers you’d expect like UPS and FedEx, as well as other, less commonly considered order fulfillment names like Domino’s Pizza. Yes, even Domino’s is working on a delivery drone.

The Chicago Tribune broke the news of the pizza bot, which will be debuting in New Zealand, on August 28. Although the number of problems a pizza-delivery drone could pose may be large, to quote reporter Steven Overly, “Who cares? It’s pizza, and now it flies!” Hot, fresh and definitely in under 30 minutes no matter what the traffic’s like—what’s not to like?

What About The Last Mile for Delivery Drones?

But the same can be said for the delivery drones working in the field to prove their safety in the U.S. so that they’re allowed to provide package delivery beyond line of sight.

The driving force behind these machines isn’t the neat factor (though, let’s face it, that’s a pretty big motivator), for businesses, the last mile is also the most expensive mile. If UPS and FedEx and DHL all can make it easier to get their last mile packages delivered for less, well, there’s certainly not much to dislike.

As the technology currently sits, drone developers are seeing a future where these machines can be used to move packages into remote areas and leave them with the local post office, where the postal worker will then act as the last mile delivery. This is much like the current arrangement that shippers like UPS have with the USPS, except that drones are anticipated to be less expensive to operate than trucks on windy rural roads.

A maturation of flying delivery technology may well create an army of drones that can ring our doorbells, ask us to sign for packages, deliver to secure lockers or perform any number of last mile tasks currently handled by delivery drivers in overstuffed trucked. Drones will always be limited by weight and range, so they should be considered to be a complement to the overstretched last mile shippers we already have in service, not in competition with them.

They’re just another really exciting tool to make order fulfillment a little faster, a little better and a little more accurate.

December 15, 2016
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