As if same-day delivery on pretty much anything wasn’t convenient enough, retailers across the world are piling money into programmes which will allow parcels to be flown to you in minutes.
Drone deliveries, set to be worth £42 billion in the UK alone by 2030, are already a reality for shoppers in much of Asia. Chinese companies like Alibaba and JD.com have been using drones to deliver items to shoppers in hard to reach rural areas since before 2017.
While the roll out of drone deliveries in the west is still a little while off, the barriers are almost entirely legislative.
This means that when the logistics of how unsighted autonomous drone deliveries will work safely above our towns and cities have been worked out, some of the world’s most technically advanced companies have delivery aircraft and networks poised to launch at the drop of a hat.
Here are our top five drone delivery services which will soon be dropping parcels to your doorstep.
In April Wing, the drone delivery company owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, became the first US company to secure approval from the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) to begin carrying out test deliveries.
By being granted the same certifications as smaller airlines, Wing is allowed to charge for deliveries of goods to clients in Virginia, where it is conducting its pilot with retailer Walgreens.
It has partnered with Walgreens, which has a store within five miles of 78 per cent of the US population. This means nearly 80 per cent of the US would be potentially in range for deliveries via Wing if and when the programme more widely rolled out.
Unlike Amazon’s programme, Wing will work alongside local businesses to deliver goods, and will has already begun reaching out for business partners across the US.
Walgreens became the first retailer in the US to deliver a package from “store to door” in using a drone in October, having successfully delivered a “cough and cold pack” including Tylenol, cough drops, facial tissues, Emergen-C and bottled water.
Not to be outdone in its home country Walmart, which already employs thousands of autonomous robots across its extensive store estate, is working on some pioneering ideas for drone delivery.
According to data from accounting firm BDO, Walmart has filed for 97 new drone patents with the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) since July 2018, significantly more than the 57 it made in the previous year, and double the 54 patents Amazon made over the past two years.
Numerous patents focus on how to get packages from the drone into a building, including a slide or tunnel which the drone can drop packages into. The drone would then signal to the platform that the delivery has been made, opening a trap door in which the package would be transported inside.
Walmart’s second patent similarly involves a platform outside of a building, however instead of using a transportation system to move the package inside it will be dropped into suspended net outside a window.
A third patent detailed a system which would use blockchain to allow drones to communicate with each other, transmitting information like their speed, height, route, loading capacity and battery information.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Amazon also has a major stake in the fledgling drone delivery market, and has secured the same permissions from the FAA as Wing.
At its Re:MARS conference in Las Vegas in June, Amazon unveiled its new state-of-the-art six-rotor delivery drone.
The hybrid aircraft is capable of vertical take-off and landing, as well as sustained forward flight, and uses a combination of data from visual, thermal and ultrasonic sensors to autonomously navigate.
It is also capable of transporting 2.3kg packages up to 15 miles, meeting the retailer’s ambitions of creating “fully electric drones that can fly up to 15 miles and deliver packages under five pounds to customers in less than 30 minutes.”
In a slightly more disconcerting development, the retailer has filed a patent with the US Patent and Trademark Office for a new system called “surveillance as a service” which would turn its delivery drones into hovering intelligent security cameras.
The system would see Amazon’s drones watch customers’ houses while making deliveries, checking for any unusual signs such as broken windows, open doors or people loitering in the area, then taking and sending photos to the customer and law enforcement.
In October the delivery giant announced it had received the U.S. government’s first full Part 135 Standard certification to operate a drone airline and could begin making commercial, medical and industrial deliveries.
It has also collaborated with drone maker Workhorse to test technology which will see drones emerge from the roof of delivery trucks to complete last mile deliveries autonomously.
This will enable the drone to make one delivery while the driver makes another by foot, improving efficiency and looking very cool while doing so.
Once the delivery has been made, the drone can follow a moving van and be return to its compartment as soon as the van comes to a stop at a new delivery location.
Another delivery giant throwing their hat into the drone delivery market is DHL, which began carrying out deliveries in China in June.
DHL has been using Chinese unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) giant Ehang’s new Falcon drones, able to bypass complex road and traffic conditions, creating an 8km customised route which has successfully reduced delivery times from 40 minutes to just eight, while reducing the cost of delivery by 80 per cent.
Each Falcon drone is fully automated and includes accurate GPS with smart real-time flight path planning and can carry up to 5kg of cargo per flight.
Special intelligent cabinets are used for the drones to take off and land on, which also autonomously load and offload cargo, while connecting to automated processes including scanning, sorting and storing express mail.