Commercial drones, or small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are already being used across the world for consumer deliveries on a small scale, and big corporations are looking to get in on the act with their own plans. In Germany, Deutsche Post DHL uses unmanned drone aircrafts to deliver medicine to the island of Juist, and in China drones have been used in Shanghai to deliver packages and cakes.
In the US, drones have been used by big companies such as Nike and Walmart to film some of their commercials, even though commercial and non-hobby unmanned aircraft are currently banned. However, this doesn’t stop business giants making plans for the use of drones and it’s certain we’ll hear more plans from global businesses over the coming year.
One of the companies already planning to adopt UAVs on a large scale is Facebook. Facebook is planning this summer to test huge 156 foot wide drones that are solar powered and fly at around 60,000 feet. These unmanned aircraft will bring high speed internet access to around five billion people who currently lack connectivity. Facebook acquired UAV maker Ascenta last year and is working on creating drones that will be able to stay airborne for three months or more. Facebook believes around 1000 drones will be needed to reach all parts of the world and they are ready to spend millions on the project, which has been named project Aquila.
Amazon has had their own plans for some time to use unmanned aircraft to deliver packages in the US to those that live close to hubs and delivery depots. The service will be called Prime Air and aims to deliver in 30 minutes or less, traveling through the air at over 50 miles per hour in order to drop five pound packages right to customers’ doors.
Amazon has been busy testing these drones in countries outside of the US, as the airspace regulatory system, the Federal Aviation Association, has taken over a year and a half to authorise Amazon’s first drone model. The FAA took so long to approve the aircraft that the model is no longer being used by Amazon as their testing in other countries has progressed the design. The FAA also has strict rules that will impact the Amazon Prime Air drone testing and possibly make it impossible for Amazon to introduce the service in America- currently UAVs must be flown by someone with a pilots license and must be operated within line of sight during flight, which will make it difficult for Amazon to introduce any kind of automated system that reaches far beyond a depot. Amazon currently have Prime Air testing centers in the US, UK and Israel but hope to branch out over the world once the service has been fully tested.
Drones are used across the world, not just by hobbyist but commercially for crop surveying, search and rescue and other uses, but in the US the FAA has not yet properly decided how to regulate them. The FAA is responsible for how American airspace is used but doesn’t yet have a clear policy about commercial UAVs. This problem will slow down the development of plans by both large and small corporations who plan to use drones for a number of applications, including commercial sales and deliveries.
It’s thought that the final policy will take around a year to be announced and, with little scope for business giants to test or use drones in US airspace during this time, it’s likely that will turn to testing and deployment in other countries like Canada while they wait for the final word on whether their ideas can come to fruition.