Walgreens is now working with Google parent company Alphabet’s Wing service to test drone deliveries. Beginning in October, Walgreens’ pilot program will use drones to deliver on-demand food, beverages, and over-the-counter non-prescription medications to customers within minutes.

Currently, Wing’s drones can deliver packages of about three pounds and within a six-mile radius.

Competition in drone delivery

Walgreens is not the only retailer who wants to use drones in delivery. Major retailers and courier companies have also responded to consumer demands for faster and more convenient delivery.

Amazon, for example, announced in June that the company planned to roll out free one-day drone delivery to its Prime members in North America.

Amazon’s delivery drones can carry a package that weighs five pounds or less and fly up to 15 minutes. Using drone delivery, Amazon Prime members can receive their orders within 30 minutes after the items leave the warehouse.

UPS also tested drone delivery back in 2017 and now plans to expand that service. UPS drones can carry packages weighing 10 pounds or less and fly up to 30 minutes. In January, CVS also expressed its interest in such a new delivery method, stating that it was ready to compete head-to-head with Amazon, including using drones in delivery.

The big obstacle of drone delivery

Drone delivery can be very helpful in meeting consumers’ on-demand requests. Restaurants, for instance, will be able to consistently deliver freshly made food and beverage items in a short timeframe, regardless of the traffic conditions on the streets.

As exciting as it may sounds, however, the big obstacle of drone delivery that every company must jump over is to get Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval. The following are a few examples of criteria the FAA regulates for commercially used unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), such as in the case of UPS:

  • Which areas the drones are operated.
  • What time of the day (or night) the drones can be operated.
  • How fast the drones can fly.
  • At what height or altitude range the drones can fly.
  • Who can operate the drones (e.g., issuing the Remote Pilot Certificate).

Wing received FAA approval in April and became the first company allowed to make commercial drone delivery, starting in part of Virginia.

In June, Amazon received FAA approval, and Uber Eats was also approved to pilot test its drone food delivery service in San Diego. So far, UPS has applied for but not yet received FAA approval.

Concerns about drone delivery

While drone delivery can be very convenient for consumers, concerns also arise when more companies and consumers rely on drones in deliveries.

First and foremost, drones create unnecessary noise for people with sensitive hearing (hyperacusis), which may lead to serious health problems for some residents. Moreover, the noise created by drones can be very distracting or even more harmful for certain types of birds, who have no choice but to share the sky with the drones.

Along the same lines, when more objects (drones) are flying in the sky, I wonder if the sky would remain to be a safe place for the birds anymore.

Then, drone delivery could also raise protentional threats to public safety. A good case in point is Saturday’s attacks by relatively cheap, low-flying drones and cruise missiles on Saudi Aramco’s Abqaiq and Khurais facilities. Strict regulations must be in place to limit the personal as well as commercial usage of drones.

Lastly, I expect drone delivery will work better in suburban areas where people live in houses or townhomes as opposed to places with high population density.

In Manhattan, for example, it might be difficult for a drone to drop off two cups of coffee to a person’s home or office located in one of the units on the 32nd floor of a skyscraper. Plus, it is probably more cost-effective to handle a large number of deliveries with trucks on carefully calculated routes and then to drones to deliver on-demand emergency items.

What do you think of drone delivery? Also, if you have tried drone delivery, what was your experience?