How is drone development changing the nature of deliveries for logistics and retail giants?
DHL delivery drone


Imagine placing an order online and having it at your doorstep in 30 minutes or less? High-speed deliveries like this may become a reality as logistics companies and online retailers push for the use of delivery drones. Amazon, the world’s biggest online store, wants to achieve same-day delivery, and believe drones may give it that competitive edge, enabling it to reach new areas away from its fulfilment centres. The devices could also offer a cheaper delivery alternative, with some estimates suggesting Amazon's average shipping cost of $2 to $8, could be reduced to $2 per shipment with drones. Another advantage of using drones would be their low carbon emissions, compared to trucks or other road transport.

Germany-based delivery company DHL is already one step ahead. It started a regular drone delivery service in 2014 after finishing its ‘parcelcopter’ research project. Now, using an autonomous quadcopter, DHL can deliver small parcels to the German island of Juist and supply its 2,000 inhabitants with medications and other goods. The device is fully automated and follows a specified route, avoiding regulated air traffic corridors by staying below 50 meters. Once the drone reaches its destination, a courier picks it up and delivers it to the recipient. The goods are protected in a very lightweight special air-transport container that is also weather resistant and waterproof.

Technology company Google has also entered the drone air space. Last year it revealed its drone-based services with a fixed-wing aircraft that can deliver goods ranging from chocolate bars and dog treats to cattle vaccines to farmers in remote areas of Australia.

However, companies still have hurdles to overcome. For international players such as DHL, its drone could be used in Germany but would be harder to implement in the UK, where laws stipulate that unmanned vehicles should operate at least 50 metres from a building or person and remain within the operator’s sight at all times. Amazon has openly expressed its frustration with US regulators for taking a long time to approve drone testing, saying it has moved on to newer technologies while waiting for the green light.