How long have we been writing about drones? Probably around 10 years or so, and we are still asking “Where are they?” It’s been quite a while and drones from companies such as Google, Amazon, Zipline, UPS, and more have evolved in shape, size, and scope, but they are all still vying for attention and deliveries.
Well, perhaps delivery drones are finally ready to take-off (and land). A number of companies have been testing drones around the nation and the globe, and a handful are ready for commercial operations in the U.S. at last.
Among the contenders are company Zipline, which is now working on deliveries for Walmart and has delivered medical products for years in Ghana and Rwanda ; Flytrex, from Israel, is focused on local food delivery, and Wing (from Alphabet) has increased deliveries of medical supplies due to the pandemic. And of course, there is always Amazon waiting in the wings to launch its drone delivery services to millions of consumers!
Why the interest in drones to deliver products? Speedier deliveries for one, plus lower transportation emissions, less traffic, and that ever-elusive instant gratification! Many companies see it as solving the “last-mile” delivery problem. However, the use of drones still faces in-depth examination and regulation from the FAA. Because drones are an unknown commodity and can operate autonomously, regulations are needed to prevent accidents or over-crowding in the skies over densely populated areas.
Drones themselves come in different shapes and sizes. Zipline has logged millions of miles of flights for commercial deliveries in Rwanda and Ghana. It is now teaming with Walmart and testing deliveries in Arkansas. Zipline drones are 11-feet wide, fixed-wing drones that launch from a steel rail and land using a hook to grab a wire.
Flytrex from Israel has been making deliveries for Walmart as well. It is also in partnership with Brinker International to deliver food to local restaurants. It’s drones look like the ones hobbyists use and can carry six pounds (or 33 chicken wings).
Amazon has lately been more secretive than when it first announced its intention to use drones a decade ago. However, the company plans to operate 145 drone stations and deliver 500 million packages within a year. It uses a more radical design with hexagonal wings and onboard systems for detecting obstacles. To deliver, it flies a few feet from the ground and drops packages.
Wing has yet another design. It’s drones are made from carbon fiber and injected-foam, weigh only 10 points, and lowers a hook to pick up and deliver packages.
What do you see in the sky?
Group Activities and Discussion Questions:
- Poll students about drones. What are the opportunities? The threats?
- What are their opinions about deliveries to their homes via drones?
- Bring up companies’ websites and show videos from each:
- Zipline: https://flyzipline.com/
- Flytrex: https://www.flytrex.com/
- Wing: https://wing.com/
- What are advantages and disadvantages of each company?
- Divide students into teams. Have each team do an environmental analysis for drones: technology forces, social forces, economic forces, competition, and laws/regulations.
- How is each company poised to address the opportunities and threats?
Source: Mims, C. (2 April 2022). Amazon, Alphabet, and others are quietly rolling out drone delivery across America. Wall Street Journal.