Will Home Drone Deliveries Ever Become Practical?

Experts have predicted drone deliveries for many years, but the skies continue to remain largely drone-free. Is it time to give up hope?

John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author

June 21, 2024

5 Min Read
Drone delivery package over London, UK
caia image via Alamy Stock Photo

Like the flying car, which was predicted to arrive as long ago as the beginning of the last century, the concept of drone package deliveries has been discussed for many years. Yet beyond a handful of tests (Amazon, for instance, recently announced a drone delivery trial in Tolleson, Ariz., a Phoenix suburb), most package deliveries remain firmly earth-bound. 

Smriti Mehra, a research analyst with market research and analytics firm Straits Research, believes that delivery drones will have a potentially bright future once several persistent challenges are resolved. "By providing quicker, more effective, and occasionally more affordable delivery options than conventional ground transportation techniques, this technology has the potential to completely transform the transportation and logistics industry."  

Multiple Applications 

There are useful applications for drone delivery in the retail, healthcare, construction, mining, utilities, and agriculture sectors, Mehra says in an email interview. "From delivering goods to remote locations to monitoring infrastructure and carrying out aerial surveys, they [can] increase productivity, save costs, and promote security in a variety of commercial and industrial industries," she explains. "Drones will significantly transform the management and transportation of goods and services as regulations change and technology progresses." 

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The concept of routine urban drone deliveries is becoming more realistic, thanks to rapid technology advancements in drone technology, such as longer battery life and autonomous navigation systems, says Carl Rodriguez, a veteran logistics expert and founder of NX Auto Transport, via email. "Drones may soon be effortlessly incorporated into urban distribution networks, giving businesses and customers both faster and more effective delivery options." 

Obstacles and Constraints 

Although delivery drone technology has grown more capable over time, developers still face several critical technological and legal obstacles. "Many companies, such as UPS, Google, and Amazon, have been testing drone deliveries in different parts of the world," Mehra says. 

Yet in many nations the legal framework governing commercial drone operations -- particularly those involving beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flights -- is still developing. "Before drone deliveries become commonplace, issues with safety, privacy, and airspace control must also be resolved," Mehra says. Still, despite these obstacles, development continues, and a handful of drone delivery services are now available in some locations for specific use cases, such as the delivery of food or medicines. 

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Regulatory obstacles, including airspace management and safety regulations, as well as technological constraints -- particularly battery life and payload capacity -- are hampering greater adoption, Mehra observes. Also delaying adoption is weak public acceptance and privacy concerns, as well as the requirement for dependable communication and navigation systems to ensure safe and effective operation. "Widespread adoption is also severely hampered by unfavorable weather, complicated logistics, and the integration of drones into the current aerial system," she says. 

Robert Power, owner and operational director of freight forwarding firm Power Forwarding, points out that technical malfunctions could result in drones dropping items off at the wrong address or damaging items in some way during the delivery process. "These factors make regulatory approval unlikely anytime soon, with public opinion also veering towards the negative," he says via email. "The [technology] is likely to remain niche, at least at first, as companies would prefer to test the waters and not overtax the delivery system." 

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Rodriguez says that market players are coming up with creative solutions to these problems, such as automated drone delivery hubs and rooftop drone landing pads. "Individual drones wouldn't need to traverse crowded places because these hubs would serve as centralized sites where drones may pick up and drop off products." 

The general concept of drone deliveries has merit; it's the existing implementation process that's flawed, Power states. "The logic of an aerial delivery system is sound and could lead to faster deliveries if the technology is perfected." 

A Growing Market 

Despite technological and regulatory challenges, the delivery drone market continues to grow. Between 2021 and 2022, the total number of packages delivered by drone climbed by over 80%, totaling about 875,000 deliveries globally according to the most recent Straits Research statistics. 

Drone delivery can bring things to customers in 30 minutes or less, with some deliveries taking as little as 10 minutes, Mehra says. She notes that in February 2024, Norwegian firm Aviant began the world's longest-range drone delivery service in Lillehammer, Norway, serving 4,000 suburban residents. "Customers can use the Kyte app to order groceries, medicine, and restaurant meals weighing up to 1.5 kilograms (3.3 pounds)." 

Zipline and Amazon Prime Air are the current global leaders in drone delivery, accounting for more than 15% of total revenue in 2022, Mehra says. "Zipline drones transport food, medication, products, and other items to homes, companies, and hospitals." Zipline's 2022 revenue was $25.2 million. "Moreover, our recent market analysis suggests that the drone package delivery system market is witnessing significant growth and is expected to increase at an annual rate of 39.15%." 

About the Author(s)

John Edwards

Technology Journalist & Author

John Edwards is a veteran business technology journalist. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and numerous business and technology publications, including Computerworld, CFO Magazine, IBM Data Management Magazine, RFID Journal, and Electronic Design. He has also written columns for The Economist's Business Intelligence Unit and PricewaterhouseCoopers' Communications Direct. John has authored several books on business technology topics. His work began appearing online as early as 1983. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, he wrote daily news and feature articles for both the CompuServe and Prodigy online services. His "Behind the Screens" commentaries made him the world's first known professional blogger.

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