In the United States initial attempts at commercial use of UAVs, such as the Tacocopter company for food delivery, were blocked by FAA regulation. As of 2015, delivering of packages with drones in the United States is not permitted. On the 13th March 2015, in Sheffield, FPS Distribution completed the first commercial delivery using a UAV.
UAVs can transport medicines and vaccines, and retrieve medical samples, into and out of remote or otherwise inaccessible regions. "Ambulance drones" rapidly deliver defibrillators in the crucial few minutes after cardiac arrests, and include livestream communication capability allowing paramedics to remotely observe and instruct on-scene individuals in how to use the defibrillators.
In Rwanda and Tanzania "zipline" drones are used to deliver blood and pharmaceutical products.
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 November 2013, four people in Morgan, Georgia were arrested for allegedly attempting to smuggle contraband into Calhoun State Prison with a six-rotor remote controlled helicopter. The suspects were found with "probably about one or two pounds of tobacco rolled up".
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. The damaged quadcopter was handed over to an Garda Síochána.
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.
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.
The Tacocopter is a taco delivery concept utilizing a smartphone app to order drone-delivered tacos in San Francisco area. It was created by MIT graduate Star Simpson and its website went live in July 2011, garnering attention from the public and media. The revelation that it didn't exist as a delivery system or app led to it being labelled a hoax.
An independent British franchise of Domino's Pizza tested a remote-controlled drone, called DomiCopter, to deliver pizzas. It was developed by a joint effort of U.K. drone specialist AeroSight, Big Communications and creative agency T + Biscuits. A short footage video was released in June 2013.
A German-based restaurant on Anna Maria Island Florida, is testing a remote-controlled drone delivery service. The delivery is called Old Hamburg Schnitzelhaus AIR, to deliver Schnitzel#Wiener Schnitzel to the nearby beach. It is currently pending regulatory approval. It was developed inhouse with DJI drone parts. A footage video was released in November 2015.
Burrito-by-drone deliveries to be tested at the Virginia Tech campus by Chipotle and Google as per articles from September 2016. This is not the first time the concept has come up. There used to be the "burrito bomber" in 2012.
Pizza deliveries via drone are now being trialed in New Zealand by Domino's. The concept can be traced back to 2012 to a Free University of Berlin student project. Other pizza delivery drone attempts include the DomiCopter from Domino's (UK, 2013), Francesco's Pizzeria (India, 2014), Dodo Pizza (Russia, 2014) and Vero Verde Pizza (Brazil, 2014).
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.
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Matternet is a Silicon Valley startup developing small UAVs for the delivery of lightweight goods. It had its origins in 2011 out of Singularity University, based at the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, CA. Their transportation solution comprises small UAVs able to carry up to 1 kilogram goods over distances of up to 20 kilometers on a battery charge. The UAVs are connected to a Cloud Software that aggregates weather, terrain and airspace data, and creates geo-fenced aerial routes for safe flight. The system is controlled by a smartphone app. It's been reported that Matternet is also developing automatic landing stations, where the UAVs would swap batteries to extend their range. They have announced a public launch of the first UAV for transportation in Q1 of 2015. Their website reports that Matternet is creating "The 'Apple II' of the drone industry: the most easy to use, desirable and safest personal flying vehicle you have ever experienced."
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 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 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 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 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 May 2015, CJ Express initiates delivery with drone services in South Korea.
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, Connect Robotics, a startup incubated by ESA BIC Portugal that automates Drones for transportation, made its first delivery. It is operating in Portugal and is working to make drones integration in the airspace safe as a founder member of the Global UTM Association.
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 500lb (227kg) payloads, an electric flying testbed debuted flight tests at Boeing Research and Technology's Collaborative Autonomous Systems Laboratory in Missouri.
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