It’s Not Economics Diminishing Drone Delivery
Two days ago, New York Times tech newsletter writer Shira Ovide published an article with the title, Where are the delivery drones. Ovide asserts that for the foreseeable future, the opportunity and scale of drone deliveries will continue to be a disappointment. Although I agree that the industry overpromised early in its development, the piece’s overall opinion—that the reason is because the economics don’t make sense or that the value to society isn’t real—was way off base. Below is a breakdown of where I believe the UAS industry, and certainly I, have a different opinion.
The bottom line: For the foreseeable future, drone deliveries will be handy in a limited number of places for a small number of products under certain conditions. But because of technical and financial limitations, drones are unlikely to be the future of package delivery on a mass scale.
She misses one key point that really undermines her argument. Regulatory limitations in most countries have largely scared away investment and made the type of innovation necessary for rapid, but safe, rollout take much longer than it could have. In those countries where regulators have been able to approve scaled drone operations, as the article does warrant, drone delivery has been extremely successful in enabling disconnected populations to receive life-improving services. The difference there was not that people or institutions are willing to pay more (in fact the alternative modes of transportation are generally motorcycle delivery or similar truck-load deliveries with far lower labor costs) but that regulators have largely been more open to new approaches and have seen the societal value of on-demand, just in-time, delivery.
Ovide asserts: “Drone deliveries are a significant improvement for some tasks, like bringing medicine to people in remote areas. But that’s less ambitious than the big drone dream Bezos and others pitched to the public.”