Individual drone deliveries ...naaaaaah, it wont get of the ground.

Ashish Thulkar illustrates drone balconies in Mail Online article

As an instrument-rated fixed wing and rotary private pilot I hope I'm wrong ...but I cant see how the world will embrace one-to-one drone deliveries ...even if your preferred pizza choice is stone cold and soggy!
In fact I'd go as far to say I believe this is all one big PR stunt to position a host of brands at the bleedin' edge of technology.

Lets look at the issues as I see them:

1) There's no money in one-on-one individual delivery - the last mile is so expensive. And along with environmental and packaging issues the pressure will mount to encourage click and collect. Most business models are being steered towards 'hub' operations who bundle various goods together to amortise costs. Endorsing the boom of click and collect I've heard talk that customers prefer to collect their goods at a nominated pick-up location, at a time to suit themselves. Much to do with it being seen as more flexible and on customers' terms rather than the retailers' rigid time schedules ...between 5-6pm means you have to be at home then ...available for collection after 2pm is much easier.

2) OK so lets imagine I'm wrong on point one. As a pilot I know the myriad regulatory hoops that need to be jumped through to even be allowed to fly over a built up area - not having 'eyes' in a cockpit will fill the law-makers with horror. So a drone operator without line-of-sight in an urban environment with up to a 2kg load will be viewed (at best) as an accident looking to happen. Please forget all the military applications that use drones - they don't fly near the ground other than at dedicated military airports!

3) OK so lets assume I'm wrong again and one of the civil aviation authorities does give permission to fly in built up areas ...even if 'novelty' premiums can be charged for drone delivery, we know that scale is important to deliver any form of viability and therefore will only be offered in urban areas. We also know around 50 percent of the world's population live in cities and built up areas and I read the other day, this will rise to 70 percent in a generation. Now I was born into retailing and often (same-day) delivered things to customers on a delivery bicycle after school for my parents shops. Most of the time was not spent getting to the address ...but in finding the front door! Think number 27C Basement flat. Or Orchard View 5th and 7th Avenues. You're probably starting to realise why there's no money in the last mile with all the messing around for single item delivery ...hey just ask a post man or women! And that's a point, what about box number addresses ...?

4) OK so lets assume GPS sorts out the addresses with corresponding front doors ....but to be honest I see no evidence of that even in my car's navigation equipment - yes I'm being harsh but you know the problems I'm talking about. So the only way for delivery drones to work is for high density urban dwellers to have drone-designated landing areas in their gardens, and in high rise dwellings: drone-dedicated balconies the UK's Mail Online's excellent article illustrated and mused. For my part this is all pie-in-the-sky and ridiculous. Think sudden gust of wind swirling around a skyscraper. Hey I've landed on elevated helipads and I'm pleased I walked away to tell the tale - done properly it's a real skill usually reserved for the 'best of the best' in the military academies after several years training ...and remember these are invariably with eyes in the cockpit.

5) Hey I love everything else being done with drones. Love their abilities. Love the way they promise to change our lives for the better. Love the idea of offering unbelievable new perspectives on everything from fruit tree monitoring and harvesting to customer tracking initiatives.

But sadly, it wont include one-to-one deliveries.

Once all the tests over 'water' or in the empty landscapes of New Zealand or Belgium have been conducted ...and proved nothing. And once the first 100 successful drone deliveries deposit something to a beautifully manicured garden with a wall high to stop passers-by grabbing the parcel first. I believe the whole idea of one-to-one delivery drones will be kicked into the long grass. The Brands will have received their publicity and the drones will then be free to concentrate on the million other things they can do extraordinarily and uniquely very well.

I hope I'm wrong ...but I know I'm not. It'll never get off the ground!


  1. You are wrong on all counts.

    (1) Price: Yes, drone delivery will be very expensive. But if you have a manufacturing facility that is shut down for a $5 part that will take one or two days to get from the manufacturer- you will pay the same-day shipping price.

    (2) BLOS is already approved for some commercial drone operators. NASA, Verizon and AT&T are currently working on a drone "ATC" to enhance safety. They wouldn't be putting that amount of resources into something that will "never get off the ground".

    (3) The "last mile" will still be done by a human. See my blog where I describe how Amazon is likely to handle drone deliveries.

    (4) See number three- The "last mile" will still be done by a human.

    (5) No, drone delivery to your door is not likely to ever happen. But your vision of drone delivery is very limited. In my blog I posit that Amazon Air has never promised that they would provide drone delivery to the door. They are describing same-day delivery and in some areas 4-hour delivery. but they have never said "to the door". Their teaser ads are just that - teasers.

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