When you realize that the concept of drone delivery services was first proposed in 2014, the technology’s rapid advances in the past four years are astounding. That same year the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) declared drones illegal and banned all commercial use in the United States. The FAA specifically forbid any form of “delivering packages to people for a fee.” We’ve written about Zipline’s drones used to deliver blood and medical supplies in Africa. In 2015 the nascent Flirtey drone delivery service and NASA tested trial medical supply drops in Virginia in FAA-approved test flights. Flirtey expanded in 2016 to partnerships with Seven-Eleven stores and Domino’s Pizza to deliver over the counter medications and pizza, respectively. It wasn’t until October 2017 that, in response to a presidential directive, the FAA and the U.S. Department of Transportation began to “work with local officials to create initiatives that would enable American companies to eventually use drones for delivery purposes.”
Zipline, the company that started dropping medical supplies by drone in Rwanda, recently introduced its latest delivery drone. The company simultaneously announced it would commence service in the U.S. by late 2018. The new autonomous aircraft has a top flight speed of 80 miles per hour and a 160-mile round trip range. As part of the FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program (UASIPP), Zipline is working with local, state, and federal government entities to “to accelerate the development and employment of safe commercial drone innovation in the country.” A major UASIPP priority involves integrating drone flights beyond visual sight lines and above populated sectors of the country that are in the National Airspace System. The government is set to enter into Memorandums of Agreement with drone delivery service applicants by May 7, 2018. Zipline expects to be in business by the end of the year with what it calls the “fastest commercial delivery drone in the world.”
Zipline claims it newest aircraft and logistical system are capable of launching flights within one minute of receiving orders. Each day a single Zipline distribution center can make up to 500 daily deliveries. It sounds good and even great, but drone delivery’s rapid status shift from forbidden to government-approval and assistance is even more impressive than the new drone’s speeds, range, and service area coverage.