Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos shook the world in 2013 when he announced on 60 Minutes that the massive retailer would be using drones to deliver packages.
The news led to an exorbitant amount of hype around not just drones for delivery, but drones for everything: mapping, saving animals, ending up under your Christmas tree.
All that hype turned the idea of drone deliveries into something of a punchline.
Over the last few years, the hype has slowed down, as all hype waves do. Drone delivery never came as quickly as promised at the scale promised. Amazon still has only carried out an extremely limited drone delivery service. Other companies touted flashy partnerships, such as the headline of the partnership between Flirtey and Domino’s to create the first-ever drone pizza delivery service. The reality was, that drone could only deliver to buildings within 1 mile of a single store in Whangaparaoa, New Zealand.
But 2019 may be the year that drone delivery finally has its moment, due in large part to news that the FAA had approved Google’s drone startup, Project Wing, to conduct drone deliveries as a Certified Air Carrier in the U.S.
U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao earlier this month announced that the FAA had awarded the first air carrier certification to Wing Aviation, which already had done extensive testing (over 70,000 test flights, and more than 3,000 deliveries to doorsteps, driveways and backyards) in Australia. That certification means Wing can begin commercial package delivery in Blacksburg, VA. The deliveries are being done in partnership with the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership and Virginia Tech, as one of the participants in the Transportation Department’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program.
Wing said it expects to launch a delivery trial later this year.
And that’s not all. Another drone delivery company that focused on medical deliveries, Zipline, announced this month that it would open the first of four distribution centers in Ghana, as part of a drone-delivery network that is expected to eventually serve 2,000 hospitals and clinics covering 12 million people. California-based Zipline already operates in other countries including Tanzania and Rwanda.
Earlier in April, drone delivery company Matternet received permission to make drone deliveries on the WakeMed hospital campus in Raleigh, NC. And the aforementioned Flirtey recently secured approval to fly their drones beyond visual line of site at the FAA test site in Reno, Nevada. Flirtey is delivering defibrillators. And insurance company State Farm at the beginning of the year was approved to fly both beyond visual line of site and over people to conduct damage assessments for insurance adjustments.