In February 2014, the prime minister and cabinet affairs minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced that the UAE planned to launch a fleet of UAVs for civilian purposes. Plans were for the UAVs to use fingerprint and eye-recognition systems to deliver official documents such as passports, ID cards and licenses, and supply emergency services at accidents. A battery-powered prototype four-rotor UAV about half a meter across was displayed in Dubai.
In the United States initial attempts at commercial use of UAVs, were blocked by FAA regulation. In June 2014, the FAA published a document that listed activities not permitted under its regulations including commercial use, which the organization stated included "delivering packages to people for a fee" or offered as part of a "purchase or another offer." In August 2016, updated FAA rules were enacted. The new rules included guidelines for commercial use of small UAVs stating they must weigh less than 55 lb (25 kg), fly up to a maximum of 400 feet (120 m), at a speed of no greater than 100 miles per hour (160 km/h), could only be operated during daytime, and that drone operators must also qualify for flying certificates and be at least 16-years old. In June 2017, the United States Senate proposed legislation to allow package deliveries by drones. In October 2017, a presidential directive was issued that called on the FAA and Transportation Department to work with local officials to create initiatives that would enable American companies to eventually use drones for delivery purposes.
UAVs can transport medicines and vaccines, and retrieve medical samples, into and out of remote or otherwise inaccessible regions.
In 2014, a Dutch student created a prototype 'Ambulance drone' which would be capable of rapidly delivering defibrillators and include live stream communication capability allowing paramedics to remotely observe and instruct on-scene individuals in how to use the defibrillators.
In July 2015, the FAA granted NASA, the drone delivery company Flirtey and Virginia Tech approval to deliver medicine to a rural Virginia medical clinic. Flirtey also made the first fully autonomous FAA-approved urban delivery in March 2016, when it delivered bottled water, emergency food, and a first aid kit to an uninhabited residential area in Hawthorne, Nevada.
In 2016, the Rwandan government partnered with the company Zipline International Inc. to build a distribution center near the town of Muhanga, from which the company's drones would be used to deliver blood and pharmaceutical products to 21 facilities. In March 2017, the company Matternet partnered with the Swiss Post to launch the first medical drone delivery network in Switzerland. In October 2017, REMSA Health, an ambulance and emergency service provider, partnered with Flirtey, to dispatch portable defibrillators when 911 callers report cardiac arrest symptoms in Northern Nevada.
Early prototypes of food delivery drones include the Tacocopter is a taco delivery concept utilizing a smartphone app to order drone-delivered tacos in San Francisco area. The revelation that it didn't exist as a delivery system or app led to it being labelled a hoax. A similar concept named the "burrito bomber" was tested in 2012. That same year, a Free University of Berlin student project examined the use of drones for pizza delivery. In 2013, as part of an advertising campaign, an independent Domino's UK franchise tested the Domicopter. Similar flights were conducted in India and Russia, but lacked regulatory approval.
A partnership between 7-Eleven and Flirtey resulted in the first FAA-approved delivery to a residence in the United States in July 2016. The following month, the company partnered with Domino's in New Zealand to launch the first commercial drone delivery service.
In September 2016, Chipotle Mexican Grill partnered with Alphabet X and announced it planned to test drone deliveries at the Virginia Tech campus. The deliveries were scheduled to be delivered in a contained area with the food to be delivered being made on site.
Connect Robotics, in a pilot project with Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Penela and Penela Town Hall, made a first meal delivery per drone in December 2016. The project intends to be an alternative to the transport done with the mini-van. The first beneficiary to take advantage of this delivery service was Joaquim dos Reis, a septuagenarian living in Podentinhos, who, in addition to meals delivered by the drone, continue to receive the home assistance provided by Santa Casa.
Marriott International used drones to deliver cocktails and drinks to the tables of guests at multiple properties in 2017 including the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Chicago, IL. The hotel chain formed a partnership with DJI in 2016, and used the company's drones for its indoor drink delivery.
With the rapid demise of snail mail and the explosive double digit growth of e-commerce, postal companies have been forced to seek new ways to yond their traditional letter delivery business models. Different postal companies from Australia, Switzerland, Germany, Singapore and Ukraine have undertaken various drone trials as they test the feasibility and profitability of unmanned delivery drone services. The hotel chain formed a partnership with DJI in 2016, and used the company's drones for its indoor drink delivery. The USPS has been testing delivery systems with HorseFly Drones.
Amazon Prime Air – Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos' December 2013 announcement that Amazon was planning rapid delivery of lightweight commercial products using UAVs was met with skepticism, with perceived obstacles including federal and state regulatory approval, public safety, reliability, individual privacy, operator training and certification, security (hacking), payload thievery, and logistical challenges.
In December 2013, in a research project of Deutsche Post AG subsidiary DHL, a sub-kilogram quantity of medicine was delivered via a prototype Microdrones "parcelcopter", raising speculation that disaster relief may be the first place the company will use the technology. DHL Parcelcopter already in use in Germany.
In July 2014 it was revealed Amazon was working on its 8th and 9th drone prototypes, some that could fly 50 miles per hour and carry 5-pound packages, and had applied to the FAA to test them.
In August 2014, Google revealed it had been testing UAVs in Australia for two years. The Google X program known as "Project Wing" aims to produce drones that can deliver not only products sold via e-commerce, but larger delivery items
In February 2015, Hangzhou based e-commerce provider Ali Baba started delivery drone service in a partnership with Shanghai YTO Express in which it delivered tea to 450 customers around select cities in China.
In May 2015, CJ Express announced a partnership with the Ministry of Public Safety and Security for disaster relieve, becoming the first private company in South Korea to operate delivery drones.
In March 2016, Flirtey conducted the first fully autonomous FAA approved drone delivery in an urban setting in the U.S.
In April 2016, a joint project in Japan involving the central government, Chiba City, research institutions and companies including Rakuten was launched to trial home drone deliveries in an urban area. A similar test project was carried out in Naka, Tokushima in February 2016 as a way to facilitate shopping for people who live in a depopulated area.
In Japan both the e-commerce behemoth Rakuten and retail giant AEON have undertaken package delivery tests. AEON conducted a drone delivery test which involved delivering a bottle of wine, toward targeting actual drone home delivery services for the year 2019 for Aeon Mall, the company's online shopping site. Rakuten on the other hand, which in early 2016 delivered refreshments and golf balls within a golf course, expanded upon that test service and in November 2016 performed a new test of package delivery service with upgraded capability. Making improvements over the previous test, Rakuten partnered with mobile phone company NTT DoCoMo to integrate the use of the cellular LTE network for long distance delivery capability testing. And in addition to modifications to the product ordering app and drone control dashboard, the new delivery drone included a number of performance enhancements including water-resistance, long-distance flight with fully autonomous control and was equipped with a parachute to slow the speed of the fall in an emergency, offering a greater level of safety. The delivery of cargo using the drone was carried out at the Inage Seaside Park in Chiba City, Japan and adjacent sea area.
In December 2016, Amazon made its first drone delivery using a drone in the United Kingdom.
In China, JD.com has been aggressively developing its drone capabilities. As of June 2017, JD.com had seven different types of delivery drones in testing or operation across four provinces in China (Beijing, Sichuan, Shaanxi and Jiangsu). The drones are capable of delivering packages weighing between 5 and 30 kg (11 to 66 lbs) while flying up to 100 km/hr (62 mph). The drones do not deliver goods directly to people’s homes. Rather, they automatically fly along fixed routes from warehouses to special landing pads where one of JD.com’s 300,000 local contractors then delivers the packages to the customers’ doorsteps in the rural villages. The e-commerce giant is now working on a 1 metric ton (1,000 kg) delivery drone which will be tested in Shaanxi.
Flytrex, an Israeli startup which specializes in developing drone delivery solutions, partnered with AHA in 2015, Iceland's largest eCommerce website, and together they initiated a drone delivery route which would shorten AHA's delivery times from 30 minutes, to less than 5. The system was deployed On 25 August 2017 and is now delivering food and small electronics via drones.
In January 2018, Boeing unveiled a prototype of a cargo drone for up to 500 lb (227 kg) payloads, an electric flying testbed debuted flight tests at Boeing Research and Technology’s Collaborative Autonomous Systems Laboratory in Missouri.
Drug cartels have used UAVs to transport contraband, sometimes using GPS-guided UAVs.
From 2013 and 2015, UAVs were observed delivering items into prisons on at least four occasions in the United States while four separate but similar incidents occurred in Ireland, Britain, Australia and Canada as well. Though not a popular way of smuggling items into prisons, corrections officials state that some individuals are beginning to experiment with UAVs.
In 2014 a quadcopter crashed into an exercise yard of Wheatfield Prison, Dublin. The quadcopter collided with wires designed to prevent helicopters landing to aid escapes, causing it to crash. A package containing drugs hung from the quadcopter and was seized by prisoners before prison staff could get to it.
Between 2014 and 2015, at two prisons in South Carolina, items such as drugs and cell phones were flown into the area by UAVs with authorities and one prison not knowing how many deliveries were successful before gaining the attention of authorities.
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