From pizza to transplant organs: What drones will be delivering in the 2020s

From drone racing to drone photography, quadcopters and other unmanned aerial vehicles rose to prominence in the 2010s. But in the decade to come they’re going to become an even bigger thing in the next 10 years. Case in point: Deliveries by drone.

Who should you be watching in this space? What kind of goodies can you expect to have flown to your front door sometime in the 2020s? Read on to find out everything you need about the fantastic future of freight.

Amazon Prime Air

amazon
Amazon Prime Air delivery drone

There was a dystopian point in history when an Amazon delivery took several days to arrive. Today, thanks to Amazon Prime, delivery time is down to a single day. Soon, courtesy of Amazon’s drone delivery ambitions, it will be further reduced to as little as 30 minutes. CEO Jeff Bezos first showed off the Prime Air concept in late 2013. Introducing drone deliveries as a concept to the masses, Prime Air’s feasibility was met with skepticism.

Would the FAA sign off the technology? Would the noise pollution problem be too great? Would this further gut our high streets by making even more shoppable items candidates for Amazon-ing? These questions will continue to be asked until Prime Air takes to the sky. Things seem to be headed in the direction of an imminent lift-off, though.

Walmart

The world’s largest company by revenue, Walmart wants to maintain its position in the retail sector through the 2020s and beyond. One way it sees to do this is through drone deliveries. With that in mind, the hypermarket, discount store and grocery leviathan has filed a number of patents relating to drone deliveries. For the past two years, it has actually outnumbered Amazon in the quantity of patents.

One such invention describes a drone delivery catching net that will confirm your delivery has been dropped off. There’s no word when Walmart will be launching its service, but there’s every chance this becomes a standard part of our grocery shopping experience in the decade to come. With former Google executive Suresh Kumar named Walmart’s chief technology and chief development officer in 2019, expect the push to embrace innovation to continue.

FedEx and UPS

UPS Drone

Even as an adult, there’s something weirdly exciting about receiving a letter or package through the mail. You know what could make it even better? If said letter or package was delivered by a frikkin’ drone. That’s something that’s being explored by companies like FedEx. Thanks to a partnership with Google-owned drone delivery company Wing, FedEx is exploring the possibility of delivering packages to customers via drone. So is UPS.

FedEx has already introduced the idea in Christiansburg, Virginia, where the region’s 22,000 residents were able to sign up online to be part of a trial program. Shipping giant UPS is having a go, too. This kind of delivery by drone will open up the delivery method for everyday folks, rather than just big retail giants like Amazon and Walmart.

Pizza by drone

Flirtey / Domino's

Wave good-bye to human takeout delivery drivers and hello to drones! At least, that’s one possibility for the coming decade. Pizza purveyors Domino’s has been at the forefront of drone deliveries (with assistance from drone company Flirtey) with their investigations into the possibility of food-by-drone delivery. The first pizza drone delivery was carried out in New Zealand in 2016.

For the same reason Amazon and Walmart’s drone takeout services still haven’t debuted in the majority of countries. But it does make sense as a business model, since most takeouts are only servicing customers within a limited mile radius of their restaurants. It’s not just pizza orders either: Foodstuffs including donuts and meatballs have also received the UAV delivery treatment.

Hey, if Starship Technologies-style delivery robots can be a thing, then drones that bring us food on order can’t be far behind!

Organs on demand

There is an enormous, deadly shortage of transplant organs worldwide. Transporting them in a safe and timely manner isn’t the only reason for this, but it certainly doesn’t make the problem any easier. Being able to avoid traffic jams and other road-based delays by soaring transplant organs overhead in a drone could, quite literally, be a lifesaver.

“Beyond ill-timed flights, eliminating the need for a human to accompany an organ limits exposure and risk for invaluable transplant nurses, technologists, and doctors on the recovery teams,” Dr. Joseph Scalea of the University of Maryland Medical Center previously told Digital Trends.

Scalea played a key role in research showing that drones can safely organs without causing any damage to them in the process. In a proof-of-concept demo, an organ flown via drone actually experienced fewer vibrations than when being transported in a fixed wing plane. In 2019, those same researchers announced a world-first successful drone transportation of a kidney for a woman in need of a transplant.

For obvious reasons, I hope that this drone innovation isn’t one that will make a direct impact on your life in the coming decade. (Because this obviously entails some urgent need for a transplant organ.) Nonetheless, this is a use of drones that will affect millions of people around the world. Speaking of which…

Blood delivery

Zipline

A drone that carries blood sounds like the premise for a horribly misguided tech-savvy update of Dracula. In fact, it’s the mission statement of Zipline, a commercial drone delivery company which delivers blood supplies in Rwanda in Ghana.

To order blood, medical staff at clinics can send an SMS, WhatsApp message or place an order via Zipline’s website. They then receive a confirmation message, detailing exactly when the blood will be delivered. Along with whole blood, Zipline’s drones can also deliver platelets, fresh frozen plasma and cryoprecipitate for treating a variety of medical conditions.

Zipline claims to have the fastest commercial delivery drone on the planet: boasting a top speed of 128 kilometers per hour and a maximum round-trip range of 160 kilometers. That allows its winged drone to fly up to 4x faster and serve an area 200x the size of an average quadcopter. This allows it to make up to 500 deliveries every single day.

Still more to be done

Whether it’s the amount of noise drones make, the risk they pose to aircraft, or issues like battery life, there’s still a lot of issues that need to be solved before drone deliveries become the everyday occurrence their biggest boosters claim that they’ll be.

But when you consider how far drones came in the last 10 years, it’s highly likely that a lot of the applications discussed here will be commonplace by the time the 2020s comes to an end. Whether it’s life-saving transplant organs or, heck, just a great takeout on a Friday night, hopefully it’ll be worth the wait.

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