FAA Approves UPS for "Unlimited" Commercial Drone Delivery

-edited

Commercial drone delivery officially launched today with the FAA approval of UPS.

TechCrunch reports UPS Gets FAA Approval to Operate an Entire Drone Delivery Airline

UPS announced today that it is the first to receive the official nod from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to operate a full “drone airline,” which will allow it to expand its current small drone delivery service pilots into a country-wide network.

In its announcement of the news, UPS said that it will start by building out its drone delivery solutions specific to hospital campuses nationwide in the U.S., and then to other industries outside of healthcare.

UPS racks up a number of firsts as a result of this milestone, thanks to how closely it has been working with the FAA throughout its development and testing process for drone deliveries. As soon as it was awarded the certification, it did a delivery for WakeMed hospital in Raleigh, N.C. using a Matternet drone, and it also became the first commercial operator to perform a drone delivery for an actual paying customer outside of line of sight thanks to an exemption it received from the government.

First Ever No-Line-of-Sight Commercial Application

UPS subsidiary Flight Forward has more details.

  • Makes first revenue-generating flight beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS)
  • UPS’s full “Part 135 Standard*” certification is a first for any company
  • UPS to expand company’s drone delivery network serving healthcare and other customer applications

Unlimited Number, Nightime Operation

“This is history in the making, and we aren’t done yet,” said David Abney, UPS chief executive officer. “Our technology is opening doors for UPS and solving problems in unique ways for our customers. We will soon announce other steps to build out our infrastructure, expand services for healthcare customers and put drones to new uses in the future.”

"The FAA’s Part 135 Standard certification has no limits on the size or scope of operations. It is the highest level of certification, one that no other company has attained. UPS Flight Forward’s certificate permits the company to fly an unlimited number of drones with an unlimited number of remote operators in command. This enables UPS to scale its operations to meet customer demand. Part 135 Standard also permits the drone and cargo to exceed 55 pounds and fly at night, previous restrictions governing earlier UPS flights."

Wow.

This was faster and more complete and less restricted than I expected.

What About Amazon?

How far behind can Amazon be?

I suspect less than a year.

The implications are enormous. Drones will eventually take over small-package delivery (up to 55 pounds) in suburbia and residential areas where drones can easily land.

One can rule out deliveries to the 44th floor of a high-rise apartment and to high-crime areas, but otherwise, many delivery driving jobs will vanish sooner or later.

Driverless Trucking Coming Up

I believe Federal DOT approval of commercial driverless trucking on interstate highways will follow soon.

When (not if) that happens, the alleged shortage of truck drivers will morph into a huge surplus almost immediately.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

Comments (47)
No. 1-24
Harry-Ireland
Harry-Ireland

So, corporate profits outweigh human jobs, once again. And what about the implications for security, terrorism and nighttime disturbance? I'm not feeling particularly good about this.

Mish
Mish

Editor

This came faster than I expected precisely because of security implications.

Then again, why should it matter. It's not as if terrorist activity will be restricted by rules and regulations.

So why not approve?

Thus the FAA acted logically. Who couldda thunk?

Mish

Matt3
Matt3

Tech is way ahead of where they should be allowed. Let's assign the liability for these things first. How about Tech just see if they can get a cell phone call to not sound like crap about 1/3 of the time? Who wants to be run over by the first truck? It will be your fault as you were not wearing the correct clothing for the vision system. The computer is NOT wrong. Driving down the cost of things that will not improve peoples lives. What a fantastic accomplishment!

Yancey_Ward
Yancey_Ward

I will just predict it right now- it never really gets off the ground. I think criminals will specifically target these drones for capture and theft so fast it will make your head spin. Same for driverless rigs.

Mish
Mish

Editor

The idea that driverless trucks will soon be hijacked to any significant degree is absurd.

How many times do we have to discuss such ridiculous idea?

Drones certainly easier than trucks. And that is why it will be delayed in cities and high crime areas.

In urban and rural areas, the only person who would take the drone would be the recipient. How hard is that to track?

Mish
Mish

Editor

The bullshit rebuttals to technology continue at an amazing pace. Sheeesh.

JohnWRS
JohnWRS

Zipline drones are already delivering medical supplies across hospital systems in Rwanda and Ghana. https://flyzipline.com

We're just catching up.

njbr
njbr

Drones to medical facilities (helicopter pads--dedicated space involved).

Drones to African hospitals (Zipline example)--parachute drops and tree-climbers involved.

Drones to your house? Roof? Lawn? Tree? Pool?

Check out some animal vs. drone videos

It will be a while for that drone delivery to your house.

Axiom7
Axiom7

The issues brought up by the naysayers are real - BUT they are missing the point that the 2nd order costs they bring up are dwarfed by the unbelievable cost-savings self-driving trucks, drones and deliveries entail. I mean that is almost the entire supply chain having an order-of-magnitude uptick in efficiency. Nothing is stopping it and the pace is accelerating.

Country Bob
Country Bob

I am guessing that the hospital (used in the test / demo case) already has a life-flight helicopter pad -- and has already done everything it can to isolate the noise of aircraft landing / taking off. Ergo, a noisy drone is not going to change anything. It might lead to faster delivery of organ transplants or blood supplies.

What happens if one of these things tries to land in a residential area? More and more communities are implementing helicopter restrictions -- especially at night. People vote, and those same people are UPS customers (and Amazon, and....)

Even if the tech makes it possible for UPS to anger its customers by filling the skies with drones, does not mean it will be a good idea to do so.

I didn't see anything in the TechCrunch article nor the UPS press release about how (or if) these drones will operate in residential areas.

The FAA bureaucrats obsessed over BLOS navigation. It is not surprising that the dopes at the FAA didn't think the other aspects through -- its the FAA's modus operandi.

Unlike federal bureaucrats, UPS has to deal with the public everyday. Amazon too. They will have to address the other aspects

Herkie
Herkie

I am with Harry on this one, if you think the once per day stops made by noisy UPS trucks is annoying wait until you try to sit out by your pool or have a beer in your garden and even inside your house, UPS and other delivery firms were just green lighted to us an air carrier rule to have drones that can lift 50+ pounds for home delivery. The noise from them is unbelievable and they will be everywhere all day and night. This is going to rapidly become a quality of life issue in which what you have to say will mean NOTHING when you go up against corporate profits. I live in the heart of this town surrounded by businesses and thousands of apartments, and houses, it is the most densely populated part of the county. It will get the most drones. I would love to use them for target practice with a wrist rocket, but missing would likely mean breaking a window or windshield. It is going to scare wildlife, cause bees and wasps to attack, and is UTTERLY unnecessary. Maybe I will buy a laser.

JimmyInMinny
JimmyInMinny

Can't wait for this to be tried in the Bronx

Je'Ri
Je'Ri

And the forst drone decapitation in 5-4-3-2 ....

Country Bob
Country Bob

In this corner: Jeff Bezos flanked by body guards who used to be special forces

In the other corner: an exhausted new mom with strained peas in her hair, vomit on her shoulder, hasn't slept in days -- and FINALLY got her baby to sleep when that f'ing drone buzzed by outside....

The special forces guys have run away, they may be brave but they aren't crazy.

njbr
njbr

The math just doesn't work.

Average number of deliveries per truck/day is 120. Replacing one truck would work out to a drone making a delivery every 6 minutes (round-tripping each delivery) in a 12 hour period. Good luck with that considering the reloading/re-fueling/re-charging between loads. Another entire set of re-handling facilities with much closer spacing would be required due to range considerations--so between the infeasibility of urban dense areas and wide-spread exurban deliveries, to replace one truck you are left with a small portion of suburban areas with a drone facility within a couple minutes of flight time of the customer.

Now figure that out for 16 million deliveries a day. And don't forget the route pick-ups that are a big part of UPS's business model.

thimk
thimk

first licensed drone airline , pretty neat . the fact that it wasn't amazon but UPS ; icing on the cake . One can probably assume that this delivery mode will be a complimentary product, not a complete replacement. surprised that issuance of permits happened in spite of security concerns.

MoonShadow
MoonShadow

I'm thinking, just like in the Matternet for the highland mountains, direct delivery of small goods to the 44th floor would be a standard use case of drone deliveries; not an exception. Residents may have to dedicate a couple square feet of balcony space for such a service, but if you can afford the 44th floor, you want your Amazon orders delivered in the hour, not next day. All it would require is a flat surface, perhaps with a special symbol that the "last foot" drone pilot (or AI) can easily recognize as a marked landing point. Some version of a modified circle, about 2 feet across, will almost certainly become a standard feature for anyone who wants delivery drones to land on their balcony, back porch, or flat roof. Apartment complexes will almost certainly be forced to provide for such a dedicated landing spot, if they wish to avoid drones landing wherever the resident wants them to land. For that matter, a smartphone with bluetooth could be placed out in the grassy side lawn, so that the drone could land right on top of it; so delivery doesn't even have to be at your home address, but wherever you happen to be right now. I can see drones landing inside the middle of a music festival, carrying hot pizza and beer, directly to those who ordered it by triangulating their cell phone. We do live in interesting times.

MoonShadow
MoonShadow

To those in this thread who think that the noise of a passing drone is a deal killer, have you ever walked down a busy urban street during daylight? Cars are loud, especially when there's a bunch of them. So are trains, do you know anyone who choses to live near the elevated rail tracks? Of course you do. We can get used to anything, if the benefits are good enough.

Mish
Mish

Editor

"I'm thinking, just like in the Matternet for the highland mountains, direct delivery of small goods to the 44th floor would be a standard use case of drone deliveries; not an exception."

What makes you think people have a balcony? Many buildings have none at all. Those that have them only have them on the outside.

I once owned a condo in a 27 story building with no balconies. I rented it out. I lived in a 9-flat with no balconies. Both Very typical in Chicago.

Mish
Mish

Editor

"One can probably assume that this delivery mode will be a complimentary product, not a complete replacement. surprised that issuance of permits happened in spite of security concerns."

Bingo and I was surprised too. Especially the part about no restrictions!

I believe that to mean "no additional restrictions" There are aircraft restrictions around Chicago and Ohare (big cities and airports in general)

KidHorn
KidHorn

This is going to be niche and will always be a niche. The drivers do more than deliver packages. They also pick up packages and they vet the packages they pick up. The drones can only handle packages up to a certain size and weight, so UPS will still need truck routes to deliver larger packages. I doubt 100 drone deliveries will ever be cheaper than a single truck route. The likelihood of a damaged shipment is far higher with a drone and the potential liability is enormous. A single accident can cost UPS or their insurer over a million dollars if someone is killed or disabled for life. I would guess a 10 lb package falling from 1000' is deadly.

Corto
Corto

Interesting to see the variety of opinions. Sure, UPS drivers pick up, but that is almost only in office parks/business areas. I would venture to guess residential is 99% deliveries to, not pick-ups from. Cost? What does it cost to deliver a 2 pound item by drone? A couple pennies of electricity for charging?

They can deliver 24 hours a day.

I agree that noise could be an issue, but a friend had a small drone running here, within 10 feet, it was annoying. Out of that range, it became difficult to hear it. Granted it was a small one.

Personally, I want my own human transport drone! What fun that would be to get to work, and for short hops somewhere. I think the flying car may actually be here soon, but will be a drone style.

themonosynaptic
themonosynaptic

I assume that delivery costs differ by destination, day, urgency, number of packages, etc.

There are a lot of variables that make up the cost for one delivery of x parcels to one destination.

If somebody is getting 100 parcels at once, then a truck will probably be cheaper than 100 drone visits. If there are 20 parcels to deliver on one street to several nearby addresses, then again, I'd expect a truck to be cheaper.

But there will also be parcels that are far cheaper to deliver via drone. A single parcel to an address nowhere near where other parcels are being delivered that day.

A parcel that has to be delivered by 10am but making the truck adjust to this one call would be more expensive then sending in a drone.

This will play out over the next few years. UPS are on the cutting edge of understanding the strengths and weaknesses of this technology and will adopt it accordingly.

As other people have pointed out, it isn't just the financial gains or losses they will build into their model, it will be the impact on the community - if UPS drones are bugging everybody, people will choose, where possible, not to use UPS, etc.

I'm pleasantly pleased that the go-ahead has been given. There has been a lot of unsubstantiated claims that Trump has got rid of expensive regulations without any backup (i.e. did an oil company save money but polluted drinking water once they were allowed to dump waste water into a river, etc.). Here is a concrete example of regulations being made more amenable.

Stuki
Stuki

As is the case with all else in our current Idiotopia, the biggest limitation to this, will end up being halfwits unable to build anything of value; "contributing" by effectively banning people from building houses more suitable for drone delivery, than the ones the halfwits inherited from Great Grandpa. Since, like, not de facto forcing other people to live under bridges is, like, baaad for myy poppeti vaijues and, like, "the market" and, like, "homes" and, like stuff.....

And, as is the case in every other area: Since the "downright morons" are, as Mencken predicted, by now in complete control over near all institutions, public as well as private, in the West; the clueless idiots' concerns will be the ones which are paid the most heed to.....