Drone-to-hand delivery could become a thing

Source: Cambridge Consultants/DelivAir
Oct 20, 2017
Matthew Stern

Retailers and tech developers have piloted many creative drone delivery solutions in recent years as they try to envision the future of the last mile. But while most have focused on how to get a package to a customer’s home, one startup is working on getting it directly into their hands.

Cambridge Consultants’ DelivAir app allows individual consumers to order products from their smartphones and have them delivered directly to their current physical location, wherever that may be, according to Engadget. Using GPS technology, the app communicates the user’s location to the drone, which seeks out the user, sending requests for location updates along the way. When the customer sees the drone approaching in the air, s/he points the smartphone at the vehicle, transmitting a signal that confirms s/he is the correct user. The drone then lowers the package using a winch and returns to base.

While it might not make the most sense for bulkier packages, such as service could offer convenience for, say, busy commuters without stores on their paths to and from public transportation, or for people who work outdoors.

Being able to deliver directly to an individual, with no address necessary, could also put vendors selling custom products direct-to-consumer in more immediate contact with customers.

The future of drone delivery – a DelivAir story from Cambridge Consultants on Vimeo.

Amazon.com has received the most press for drone delivery with news of patents appearing every few months for concepts as futuristic and varied as mechanical beehives for drone deployment and drones outfitted with data collection capabilities.

Most recently, Amazon has been considering ways to use drones outside of package delivery. The company recently patented a method of using a drone to deliver a freshly-charged battery to an electric car, according to TechCrunch. This provides a potential solution for drivers who may run their batteries down to zero outside of the range of a charging station on long trips.

Logistics providers like UPS are also getting in on the drone innovation game, with solutions like truck-mounted drone deployment to fly packages to hard-to-reach delivery spots.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see practical potential in drones making deliveries directly to consumers outside of the home? Could such services become more popular than drone-to-home delivery? What would be the best use cases for direct-to-consumer drone delivery?

"This week’s incident of a drone hitting a passenger plane in Canada raises my concern about how far drone use in the public airspace can go."
"As far as there being “no problem to solve,” I disagree. It’s not about solving a problem, it’s about improving efficiency."
"This story makes me want to invest in the helmet business."

Join the Discussion!

17 Comments on "Drone-to-hand delivery could become a thing"

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Bob Amster

Although technically possible, this seems more like a solution looking for a problem to solve. This kind of service (if allowed) would crowd the airspace with drones, and could easily pose safety problems. The technology has much more practical value in life saving situations in which a person may need critical medicine and cannot get around. A drone could be a true life-line in such cases.

Karen S. Herman

Great point, Bob, to suggest drones be used for life saving situations. In Sweden and out in California, operators are working with first responders to assist people with cardiac arrest and deliver aid faster by drone.

Ken Lonyai

Technology for technology’s sake. Definitely cool to be somewhere with your buds and have a drone bring you some trendy energy drink and practical for a parent in the park out of diapers to get an emergency fix, but there’s very little bottom line revenue here, particularly when the novelty wears off.

Karen S. Herman

I’m a big fan of drones in the retail sector, from improved logistics in the warehouse to creative delivery solutions and marketing engagements for consumers. But this week’s incident of a drone hitting a passenger plane in Canada raises my concern about how far the proliferation of drone use in the public airspace can go. The U.S. is more reserved about opening up airspace to drones than other countries and I don’t see direct-to-consumer drone delivery happening here too soon.

Ed Dunn
2 months 29 days ago

This use case was covered here before with a store in Japan delivering shoe boxes via drone from the backroom to the customer. There are too many variables outside but I seriously see this taking off as an in-store fulfillment process in the future, such as delivering sushi to a table or dropping off t-shirts to a football game where the fans can pass the box to the correct fan based on beacon proximity.

Neil Saunders

Great technology, but it “solves” a problem that doesn’t exist! Where it may be more useful is in very remote, undeveloped countries where the postal system, infrastructure and retail systems are unreliable or non-existent. Here in the U.S., it seems like a gimmick.

Dan Raftery

Drone technology is super cool and I’m delighted to see all the applications. For parcel delivery, however, we have one big problem. And until it is solved, I’m afraid drones will make little headway here.
The issue is society’s embedded expectation for “free delivery.” Combine that with the whole lowest-price syndrome and you have a recipe for fateful margin erosion. If consumers will pay for it, great. Got my fingers crossed, hoping this works.

Janet Dorenkott
2 months 28 days ago

Drone delivery will definitely become more popular. As far as there being “no problem to solve,” I disagree. It’s not about solving a problem, it’s about improving efficiency. Although many people want free delivery, others are very willing to pay a premium for something they need quickly, whether that is medicine they are running low on or a bathing suit for a vacation. Seems to me like low-altitude air traffic control is the problem waiting for a solution.

Ralph Jacobson

The sky is literally the limit. Of course, there are liability and tactical logistics concerns, however I don’t see them as showstoppers. It’s just a matter of time for this to take hold.

James Tenser

This story makes me want to invest in the helmet business.

Sterling Hawkins

I love this. Certainly there are challenges to overcome (cost, range, air traffic, user experience, etc.) and there’s an incredible opportunity here around what this makes possible. Last mile delivery is set to transform the customer experience as solutions such as this are coming to market. With the large potential and the volume of companies chasing the opportunity, it’s only a matter of time before any obstacles are overcome to make this real.

Ricardo Belmar

This is certainly a very cool technology, but feels more like a gimmick. What problem is it really solving in last mile delivery? We may see solutions like this in countries where aspects of the environment make it more sensible and practical, but can you really see a drone making a delivery like this during rush hour in Manhattan?

Craig Sundstrom

Here in the Bay Area there’s been a lot of talk lately about drones, in relation to the firestorm in Santa Rosa: on the one hand how the images from them were quite useful, but OTOH how disastrous they can be in the wrong place, or in untrained hands. Right now at least, I can only think that putting thousands of them in the air will make everywhere “the wrong place.”

Doug Garnett

The actual “delivery” portion of the home delivery drone theory has always baffled me. Do I want a 5 year old to accidentally encounter a delivery drone in the porch? In our rainy world, a drone has to deliver out of the weather — where is that?

I was fascinated that in the one commercial drone delivery operation (Iceland? Greenland? one of the two), the drone delivers to a specific neighborhood spot where an employee is waiting to ferry the product the final mile.

So even for regular deliveries to home, this doesn’t make much sense. But to deliver to people on the run? Another example of tech that CAN happen but there’s not reason it should happen.

Vahe Katros

There’s boring detailed stuff going on behind the scenes for years on all matters relating to enabling “Urban Air Mobility” being done by the best people in NASA, the FAA, the Military, and private companies. It looks like this is really going to happen.

As for an idea, how about enabling deliveries to people living off-the-grid or drones to ship things to under-served rural areas. I think an emergency delivery of medications will happen early or perhaps the use of a drone to be a first responder — with video and audio/voice recognition, they could help with triage.

Cannabis drone delivery may also help in the future to answer these types of futuristic questions.

That silly idea of Cannabis delivery has been outlawed in CA but it led to a more useful thought: Emergency delivery of naloxone to deal with overdoes. The future will be interesting.

Yoav Vilner
2 months 27 days ago

There’s no doubt that this would be a very cool use of drones, but I’m not sure it would be logistically possible. First, the airspace would be very crowded and walking around could be dangerous. While watching the video, I kept wondering if this was really something that could be implemented in our daily lives, but it just seems too surreal (as well as complicated). When there are so many other better uses for drones, drone delivery doesn’t seem quite necessary. I don’t think it would bring more customers or an increased number of deliveries to the big retailers out there.

Michael Wilhite

The technology angle with this story may be a bit of a distraction from the most interesting aspect of this story. Regardless of the source of the last-mile delivery (drone, autonomous vehicle, driver, etc.) there is the expectation of flexibility. Shoppers will demand to bring it to “me” and not my home, place of business, delivery hub, nor vehicle. Optimization of the last mile with fixed delivery points, known hours or even days in advance and with flexible delivery windows is the current state. However, all of the real-time data inputs exist to optimize dynamically in real-time for both deliverer and recipient.

"This week’s incident of a drone hitting a passenger plane in Canada raises my concern about how far drone use in the public airspace can go."
"As far as there being “no problem to solve,” I disagree. It’s not about solving a problem, it’s about improving efficiency."
"This story makes me want to invest in the helmet business."

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