“Delivered directly to your home by drone”, a next delivery option? In the United Kingdom, the project of delivering objects by air has just taken a new turn. Coventry, a city in the heart of England, is preparing to inaugurate the world’s first airport for electric planes and delivery drones on Monday, April 25.
Called Air One, this futuristic logistics platform was developed by the British company Urban-Air Port, in partnership with Hyundai and Malloy Aeronautics, a company specializing in the manufacture of drones. Urban-Air Port hopes to take off, this Monday, its first autonomous cargo drone. Initially, these vehicles would aim to collect and deliver supplies and equipment for the British police and emergency services.
Amazon in trouble, Google in the lead
Born in the early 2010s, delivery by drone has not, until now, really gone beyond the experimental phases. The idea had however seduced several great entrepreneurs. Jeff Bezos, first, in 2013, the year he launched Amazon Air Prime. In 2017, he proudly tweeted a video of the first full delivery in the United States. Today, the project is slipping, as Amazon still does not have its own fleet of delivery robots to date.
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On the side of Google, the results are more convincing. The internet giant created Wing in 2019, a company specializing in air delivery. In the summer of 2021, it recorded 100,000 deliveries in two years. Half were made in Logan, an Australian city renamed the capital of drone delivery. The new service has won over locals, who have been confined several times since 2020. But the items delivered did not exceed the size or weight of a packed lunch, such as children’s snacks, roast chickens, boxes of sushi… i.e. a maximum of 1.2 kg.
Food, paramedical products, mechanical parts…
Other activities of this type have emerged elsewhere in the world, notably in the United States, with the Israeli company Flytrex. Walmart, an American hypermarket that has requested the services of the start-up, also delivers agri-food products via Zipline, also known for having made 275,000 deliveries of blood, vaccines and other paramedical products to Rwanda and Ghana since 2016.
In France, at Rungis, tests to deliver food goods and mechanical parts have also been successfully carried out. In all, around fifty cargo flights were carried out at the end of 2021. For its part, the parcel transport company DPD, a subsidiary of La Poste, continues to develop its commercial line by air in isolated sites. The drones are used during the usual delivery rounds, from an equipped vehicle. In the Var, where an experiment of this type was conducted, the drone could deliver in eight minutes what an employee delivers in thirty minutes by car.
Soon a regulation?
But will we soon be able to have a toaster bought on the Internet delivered? We will surely have to wait a few years, the capacities of drones not currently exceeding 5 kg. In addition, this type of service remains very localized, with a maximum delivery radius of 10 km.
The players in the sector are therefore still faced with technological difficulties, which limit the autonomy and carrying capacities of these machines. The other big challenge will also be legal. Currently, European legislation regulates the construction and use of civilian drones as well as the experimentation of “professional” drones. If the air delivery sector manages to develop over the next few years, a sustainable framework will quickly be needed to organize airspace and avoid accidents.