Drone deliveries are now not too far from becoming a scalable and global transportation network for goods such as fast food and medical supplies. Gone will be the day when we have to jump into our cars or hop onto an airplane to get what we need: everything will be delivered right to your doorstep. 

Drone delivery services have shown enough potential that Amazon, UPS, Volkswagen and other major companies are labelling it as the future of last mile delivery. Other influential companies are beginning to test drone delivery services around the world.  

Just last week, Wing announced a partnership with Australian supermarket giant Coles to deliver small items via drone to customers close to a Gold Coast supermarket. The company is already located in parts of Canberra and Logan, Queensland. 

According to the world Economic forum, 85 million packages and documents are delivered around the world daily. 

Given the success of global trials so far, many are wondering when drone delivery will become mainstream and whether it can be scaled up geographically. Like many other technical developments, the answer depends on many factors. Testing drone delivery services and delivery systems will arguably solve the problem of last mile delivery. 


Why Drone Delivery? 

The commercial drone market is expected to soar from $8.15 billion this year to nearly $47.4 billion by 2029, according to Fortune Business Insights Report.  

One of the major catalysts for increasing demand for drone delivery is COVID-19, as drones were able to deliver vaccines to remote areas. The study also saw an increase in remote workers ordering takeaways and making continuous delivery requests for food and goods.  

Although the pandemic boosted delivery, already, last mile delivery makes up nearly half of the total cost of shipping, with the projected market expected to reach close to $50 million in 2029 . Drones, therefore, could offer a cost-effective solution. 

On average it is estimated that the price of delivering a 3kg grocery parcel will be $5 or less. This is probably not much less than what someone would pay for traditional delivery methods, however, this reduces emissions and is a fast method of delivery.

Delivery giants such as Amazon and UPS are already considering the potential of what drone delivery can bring. 

“As an innovation-driven company, we’re always looking for more efficient ways to get packages to the right place, at the right time, and in the right condition. Drones represent just one of the delivery methods that we’ve been exploring,” said a spokesperson from UPS. 

“These methods shift over time as pilot programmes give us a better understanding of where drones and other new delivery methods are best deployed. Some recent examples where UPS has used drones to make deliveries include UPS Flight Forward helping to make COVID-19 vaccine deliveries in North Carolina using cold chain packaging developed specifically for drones. Similarly in the healthcare space, UPS used drones to deliver prescription medicines from a pharmacy to a retirement community in Florida, home to more than 135,000 residents.” 

“We’re also exploring the use of eVTOL, or electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft. These are piloted aircraft that are quieter than conventional aircraft and would be able to land on-property at UPS facilities, reducing time-in-transit for packages, as well as vehicle emissions and operating cost.” said UPS to MOVE.  

Furthermore, UPS is not the only delivery service harnessing the potential of drone delivery. Matternet was the world’s first delivery drone to be issued FAA Type Certification.

“Matternet designs, builds, and operates drone delivery in urban and suburban areas in partnership with healthcare and logistics organizations. We believe drones aren’t just a means of delivery – they’re an opportunity to make a positive impact on our society. Our focus is making sure that technology is used where it’s most needed — in the health sector — ensuring quick and reliable delivery of time-sensitive medical and laboratory cargo. Matternet’s health-centric approach is a game changer in America,” said Andreas Raptopoulos, CEO and Founder of Matternet. 

He continued: “Our recent FAA Type Certification means that Matternet is the first commercial drone system in the U.S. to meet the FAA’s strict safety and airworthiness criteria. This landmark accomplishment sets us apart from other drone delivery providers and provides a clear path forward for our U.S. delivery services. This vote of confidence in Matternet’s aircraft means we are the only company ready for scaled and relevant commercial operation in the U.S.”

Back in 2019, Matternet and UPS partnered to launch drone delivery services in the US and together started the first revenue drone delivery operations in the US.


The first drone deliveries: 

Back in November 2016, drone delivery pizza became a reality when Domino’s, alongside its drone delivery partner Flirtey, delivered an order to a customer’s home in New Zealand  

Using a team of drone experts and a pilot that autonomously controlled Flirtey’s DRU Drone, through GPS navigation, the pizza was quickly delivered to the door. 

Additionally, in 2019, Wing launched America’s first commercial drone delivery service to homes in Virginia. Three drones were deployed with one carrying chocolate, one with medicine and the other a winter vest. They autonomously flew to three different customers. The launch of this service was made possible by the Air Carrier Certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration. This was the first of its kind.

A year later, Manna Aero began a drone delivery service in Moneygall, Ireland during the height of the pandemic. The company began delivering medicine to vulnerable people in their homes, providing a clear example of how technology is helping save and shape lives.  

Many other companies soon followed, and began offering vaccination delivery services, even post-pandemic. UPS has created the UPS Foundation to help speed up delivery of vaccines not just in the UK, but across the globe. 

“Our charitable arm, The UPS Foundation, also plays a key role in helping to accelerate vaccine equity and health systems’ capacity in remote areas of Africa, partly through the use of drones, in partnership with organizations like CARE®, Gavi, UNICEF, Zipline and Swoop Aero.” said a spokesperson at UPS 

Matternet’s use of drones, especially in the partnership with UPS along with other health systems, to transport medical samples, vaccines and prescription drugs, is revolutionising delivery of goods.

“UPS started delivering medical samples via our unmanned drones at WakeMed’s hospital in Raleigh, NC in 2019. Since then, they have used our drones to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist medical center,” said Andreas Raptopoulos, CEO and Founder of Matternet.  

These partnerships are proof of the success and positive impact that drones can bring to healthcare systems. We see unmanned vehicles as a solution to significant infrastructure issues that affect critical services like healthcare.” 


What is the future of drone delivery? 

The drone delivery market has set its ambitions on tackling the issues associated with last-mile delivery. In the healthcare sector, it is set to be a key element of delivering medical goods.  

The autonomous last-mile delivery model has proven itself to be effective, positive and scalable. Using autonomous drone deliveries, depots and parcel stations can deliver a model that is financially sustainable and is better for the environment.  

Many major companies are already fully committed to the race with Amazon announcing in June that California would see its first Prime Air drone deliveries later this year. It is also said to be working closely with the US Federal Aviation Administration and other regulators in order to earn an FAA air carrier certificate.

“As more companies receive Type Certification, we can expect to see an influx of activity in the drone delivery space. We anticipate that drone delivery will become the norm in many aspects of delivering goods and services. Drones will ultimately impact our entire approach to efficiency within society in an environmentally friendly way.” said Matternet Founder and CEO.  

This technology evidently provides a faster and more sustainable way for people to get what they need when they need it without contributing to CO2 emissions and road congestion. The drone industry has found momentum after the pandemic and will continue to grow into commercialisation.

To find out more about Matternet click here.

To find out more about UPS click here.