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Supply Chain News: Are Drone Deliveries on the Cusp of Reality?

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Walmart, Cardinal Health Announce Drone Programs


Nov. 23, 2021
SCDigest Editorial Staff
     

All told, progress in drone deliveries has been a disappointment since Jeff Bezos announced Amazon's vision of drone deliveries, complete with video of Amazon drones carrying on-line orders, on a “60 Minutes” show in December of 2013.

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Zipline first gained fame using drones in Africa to carry parcels from blood banks to hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

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The issues causing the slow progress versus what many expected following Bezos’ news seem a lot more regulatory than involving the technology itself. But the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) changed the game in December of 2020, announcing a relaxation of rules relative to commercial drone flights.

Specifically, the new guidelines allowed drones to operate at night and fly over people. The then ban on flying over most people was been seen as a significant barrier to commercial delivery applications.

Two drone delivery news items in the past week illustrate the changing landscape.

First, last week Walmart announced it has started a drone delivery service that it said will ship thousands of products' to customers from a store in Pea Ridge, Arkansas.

Walmart is piloting the program with drone system maker Zipline. Impressively, the program will allow drone deliveries with a 50-mile radius of the store in Pea Ridge.

Walmart and Ziplines say they designed a “first-of-its kind” 25-foot-tall platform, located the back of the Walmart store , which serves as the infrastructure for take-off and landing for drones. Among the goals of the program is to provide service to hard-to-reach and at-risk populations, such as rural communities and elderly customers.

The test is currently only available to a “small percentage” of customers, but is set to expand its reach as the firms collect more performance data. The drones can carry items up to 4 pounds, with the parcels delivered by use of a parachute on the boxes.

Then this week, pharmaceuticals distributor Cardinal Health announced its plans to plans to test the use of drones to speed delivery of drugs, inhalers and other items to US pharmacies.


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Cardinal’s pilot program is also being developed with Zipline, which first gained fame using drones in Africa to carry parcels from blood banks to hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

The test is scheduled to launch in 2022 near Charlotte, awaiting approvals from the FAA. Again here, the Zipline drones will deliver payloads of up to four pounds, but with Cardinal the trips will be about 10 miles from a Zipline facility in Kannapolis, NC to local pharmacies. It will take the drones 30 to 60 minutes to make the round trip.

Cardinal says the drones will allow it to bypass road obstacles such as natural disasters and help replenish high-turnover SKUs. Someday, it will be useful for emergency situations in remote areas or for time sensitive deliveries, such antivenom for snake bites.

Cardinal expects to expand the program to more products and regions, subject additional FAA approvals.

Are we close to the start of widespead drone deliveries? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.


 
 

 

 

 

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