We have heard about the possibility of air drones delivering packages to our homes for some years now, with Amazon Prime Air one of the leading contenders that have been in the news lately. This service promises speedy, efficient deliveries but will it end up costing consumers more than before?
The Current Progress Being Made
The official Amazon site confirms that Prime Air will allow them to send packages to customers in 30 minutes or less. By using autonomous aerial vehicles, the company can send out packages of up to five pounds. They confirm that in August 2020, a Part 135 Air Carrier Certificate was awarded to Amazon by the United States Federal Aviation Administration. The site confirms that this is an important step forward and shows confidence in their ability to operate drones, but there are no exact dates given for the start of the service, with vague phrases like being able to use the technology “one day”.
This online article from Time confirms that the Amazon drones should have been operating by the fall of 2021, having been initially announced back in 2013 when Jeff Bezos claimed it would take up to five years to bring the plan to life. When interviewed for the Time article, an Amazon spokesperson said that it takes time to get the technology and infrastructure just right for this ambitious project. While some people are skeptical about this idea ever working, the Amazon team working on it seems relaxed.
One possible issue is the impact these delivery flights could have on the environment, and in particular on wildlife. European Environment Agency research on the subject points out that the market is set to grow significantly and that there are pros and cons to the idea of using drones to deliver goods. Their report points out that delivery drones may be more CO2-efficient than other methods but that they are likely to come into contact with birds, which could lead to collisions and stress caused by the additional noise.
The latest reports suggest that Amazon is planning to carry out a huge number of drone tests later in 2022. It’s been suggested that they want to sign up 1,300 test customers to carry out several thousand deliveries across California and Texas, possibly from September 2022 onwards. Some sources also suggest that the service could cost $63 for a delivery, which is far more expensive than using conventional methods. Despite this high cost, Amazon has a goal of delivering a million packages by drone by 2025.
How Drones Are Already Being Used
While Amazon Air Prime has captured a lot of media attention, it isn’t the only example of drones being used for deliveries. The Amazon announcement in 2013 brought the issue to mainstream attention, but just a few months later DHL was able to deliver a small amount of medicine by using a tiny drone, and by 2018 the company had carried out more than 180 flights using drones from the manufacturer Wingcopter.
More advances can be seen when we look at the flights carried out by Google X, which has been running the Project Wing program in Australia since 2012. Now operating under the name of Wing as an independent part of their parent company, Alphabet, they already passed the 100,000 deliveries mark in 2021. Most of their deliveries have been achieved in Logan, Australia, but Wing has also received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration in the US.
As we look around the world, we can see food deliveries carried out by a drone in Singapore. Postal deliveries to ships have also been made in this way in the Netherlands, while Flytrex has made eCommerce deliveries to customers in Iceland with delivery times of just five minutes in their 13 routes across the capital city, Reykjavik. Apart from their delivery potential, military drones are also currently being used for missions involving logistics and surveillance. We can also see them being used to increasing the safety levels in construction projects.
What Other Industries Have Adapted New Technology Without Raising Prices?
We have seen that several major companies are now fairly advanced in their testing of delivery drones and that some of them have achieved major milestones along the way. Yet, one of the major issues still to be resolved is the question of the cost. The proposed fee of $63 mentioned for an Amazon Prime Air delivery would make it unlikely to appeal to everyone.
Perhaps a look at how other industries have incorporated new technology without raising their prices can show us how this can be done with delivery drones. Artificial intelligence (AI) has been introduced into diverse areas such as transportation, finance, and healthcare without massive price hikes. This look by the Itrex Group at the different factors involved in the price calculation concludes that an AI-powered telemedicine solution could cost up to $56,000 while the price of an intelligent recommendation engine could reach $35,000.
Live streaming is another area that has been smoothly introduced in several industries. For example, Online Casino Betway has taken up this trend with the live table games such as roulette and blackjack they provide. These games involve the dealer being live-streamed onto the player’s PC or mobile device, allowing bets to be placed as the action unfolds on the screen. According to Boxcast, the equipment needed to set up live streams includes cameras at between $200 and $8000, production equipment valued at up to $5,000, and a live stream digital encoder that can cost $20,000.
In terms of the expected cost of a drone delivery service, this ITS Deployment Evaluation suggests that each delivery could cost less than a dollar depending upon the number of drones used. A piece of academic research in the Journal for Economic Indicators from 2016 confirms that using drones makes sense for Amazon and that each delivery should cost less than $1, so it isn’t clear whether the $63 cost mentioned earlier is set to be a temporary price while the operation is scaled up, or whether their costs have increased since then.
Delivery drones look like becoming a big part of our lives in the next few years, although customers will be keeping a close eye on the cost of this kind of service before deciding whether it makes sense for them to use it.