Across the skies in the U.S., delivery drones are a concept that holds great promise. This vision remains as an elusive scheme held hostage by regulators and uncertain implementations. Companies such as Amazon, Google, and even 7-Eleven are in the pilot and trial phases of drone delivery, as they test range, durability and payload of these flying, robotic carriers. A sign of domestic market uncertainty is that many of these early experiments are taking place on foreign soil.
Israeli-based startup FlyTrex is taking a different approach to the drone delivery opportunity. The company certainly has its eye on the food delivery down the road. While that space sorts out, FlyTrex is offering an out-of-the-box solution, complete with an API program, with potential appeal to markets beyond the culinary world with a focus on non-U.S. customers. Sensing the commercial use of drones for food and/or groceries is, at best, murky, the company has a deal in place with the Ukrainian postal authorities to soon test the delivery of small parcels via these unmanned, low-flying aircraft. FlyTrex hopes this is a first of many such trials.
While local governments in the US are moving quickly to pave the way for slow-moving (and safe) sidewalk delivery robots, delivery drones on the other hand are stuck in a frustrating loop of regulations that prevent the space from moving forward which, in turn, limits the technological progress of this mode of robotic delivery. As with many current legislative battles, regulating drones has become a fight between state and federal government.
“This could be a brave new world — and a cool way to get your stuff,” Minnesota’s U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis told Governmental Technology. Lewis is a Republican recently introduced bipartisan legislation to give the state, local and tribal governments’ jurisdiction over drones flying at 200 feet or lower. Lewis believes such a measure protects privacy and property rights while giving a boost to new technology.
The FAA is not keen on turning over drone regulation to local authorities. “If one or two municipalities enacted ordinances regulating [drones] in the navigable airspace and a significant number of municipalities followed suit, fractionalized control of the navigable airspace could result,” the agency wrote in 2015.
Despite obvious roadblocks, Amazon is undaunted in its pursuit of drone delivery. Given the amount of money the company has invested in the opportunity, as well as its pending purchase of Whole Foods, the supergiant retailer must explore every channel for efficiently getting goods from business to business and from business to consumer. Recently, Amazon has set up a research center in Paris to develop an air-traffic control system for drones as well as seeking a patent for cylindrical delivery hubs that work for drones and delivery trucks.
While there are plenty of sample videos detailing tests in various regions of the U.S., or tantalizing futurists with drones delivering beer, it may be years before we reach the viable intersection of food delivery and octocopters. In the meantime, the current zeitgeist for drone delivery is one that requires patience, a strong vision, and the resources to wait out multi pronged inertia.