The possibility that e-commerce fulfilment services could in the future be carried out by drones has been generating much interest in the press recently - it seems like everyone from pizza chains to shoe shops has been getting publicity by trialing the idea of attaching their product to a remote controlled aircraft.
The reality is a bit more prosaic, unfortunately. Drone technology has come on a long way, but it's still quite far from really being deployable in any practical application. Drones do not have regulatory approval for commercial delivery in most major cities, and there are good reasons for this. The main problems with drone delivery are practical, not legal. Among them are:
At the moment, drones do not have sense and avoid technology to stop them bumping into birds, other drones and even manned aircraft. Any solution to this problem is likely to involve putting cameras on the drones, which immediately raises privacy concerns. Even without a collision, a mechanical failure could lead to a drone dropping out of the sky, damaging its package and potentially hurting someone.
A package suspended from a drone is much more vulnerable than one packed into the back of a van. In a survey, the majority of UK shoppers said that they would be worried about security of drone delivered packages. Worryingly, 5% of respondents to that survey also said that they would probably steal packages from drones themselves!
One vehicle per package, even if that vehicle is small and unmanned, is not a cost effective ratio when you consider the number of packages that can be carried in a conventional mail van - few customers really need or are prepared to pay for such bespoke mail services.
Maybe one day the problems will be solved, and the skies will be full of cheap, highly robust drones which are capable of making secure deliveries at very low cost. Perhaps these future drones will even be able to fly in bad weather. But at present, e-commerce companies are likely to keep looking to conventional fulfilment houses to carry their goods to customers.