Drone-Up Looks to Automation to Make “Last Mile” Deliveries More Efficient and Profitable

2024 could prove to be a banner year for the US drone industry.  While various sectors, including construction and real estate, are experiencing a dramatic expansion in their operations and sales, it’s the retail delivery sector that may be poised for the greatest take-off.

A good example is Virginia beach-based Drone Up, one of Walmart’s partners in the company’s “last mile” deliveries to its store customers in 7 states nationwide.  Drone Up has helped pioneer these deliveries, which typically feature short-distance point-to-point flights between individual store outlets and the households of selected Walmart customers.  As everyone knows,  “last mile” deliveries are really viable financially over the long haul.  Walmart only realizes meager returns (at best) from the service, which needs to be scalable – with a large drone fleet controlled by a remote pilot – to be truly cost-effective and profitable.

Drone Up believes it has an answer to the financial and logistical constraints on the current “last mile” model.  Create an entire “ecosystem” of drone delivery that allows multiple providers – from quick service restaurants (QSRs) to grocery stores and even hospitals and pharmacies – to make continuous long-distance deliveries and on a Beyond Visual Line of Sight basis without the need for special safety observers.

In addition to allowing deliveries at scale, Drone Up’s new eco-system would do away with most of the cumbersome logistics for scheduling drone flights for immediate customer pick-up, which makes the service less convenient and user-friendly.  It would also eliminate the need for store outlets to hand-load their drones, which, along with scheduling, accounts for 74% of current “last-mile” delivery costs.

In place of hand-loading,  Drone-Up has introduced a completely automated package loading and pick-up system it calls DBX.  DBX allows retail store employees to place ordered items into a secured container or kiosk that automatically signals a nearby drone to arrive and load them, saving time and reducing labor costs. Customers can use these same kiosks to pick up their goods, which are deposited there automatically by a hovering drone.

With a secured pre-positioned depository, customers need not be waiting outside their office or home for packages to arrive but can pick them up at their leisure, perhaps hours later, if need be.  The kiosks need not be located near a customer’s home.  Drone-Up envisions them being placed on office roofs or in parking lots.  By automating the entire system for package loading, delivery, storage and pick-up, Drone-Up reduces its costs while store customers are assured of maximum flexibility and convenience.

Drone Up is preparing to test DBX at selected Walmart store outlets but also as part of its expanding operations with other store chains, including 7-11 and Chick Fil-A. The company just signed a deal with Chick Fil-A – which is consistently ranked (for 8 years running) as America’s favorite QSR – to begin pioneering delivery operations at a single store outlet (one of 3,000 nationwide, still mostly in the Southeast) in Brandon, FL., a city of 115,000 residents about 11 miles inland from Tampa.

Chick Fil-A’s a drone industry newbie and wants to take things slow, even enticing customers to try its new service at no extra cost.  For now the company has authorized close-in deliveries to store customers in a 2 mile radius of its Brandon outlet.  But if all goes well, it may add a few other store outlets in the Tampa area and eventually expand statewide company officials say

Drone-Up has also introduced some innovations in its drone design. Its latest UAV models fly at high speeds and can recharge their batteries mid-air, extending the range of flights over long distances and without the need for remote piloting.  The new drone also uses a clawlike device to grab and release its packages. The drone hovers over the kiosk, which is programmed to open automatically upon its arrival.

With its new ecosystem, it won’t be long before Drone-Up becomes a household name among superstars like Wing and Zipline. Forbes predicts that the global market for remote delivery will grow exponentially over the next decade.  The market research form Statista estimates a nearly fourfold growth in the market from $1.2 billion in 2021 to $4.3 billion by 2027.  Expect Drone Up to claim an ever rising share of the market in the years ahead.

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