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Is Drone Delivery Really Happening?

By William Vogeler, Esq. on September 21, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A drone will soon be able to deliver a package in 30 minutes across town for $5 to $10.

It gets better, says Matternet CEO Andreas Raptopoulos as his company prepares to launch a drone delivery service. "When you increase the density of your networks, then there is a pathway to get the cost below $2," he said.

It's exciting times, including for law firms that need couriers like Domino's needs drivers, except for one thing: drone delivery companies are taking a little longer to get off the ground in the United States.

Launching in 3, 2 ...

Matternet, based in the Silicon Valley, is testing its service in urban areas of Switzerland for now. It will ferry medical samples between labs and hospitals.

The drones will fly between Matternet stations on street corners and rooftops. It works like a mailbox system: customers put a package into a slot, and the drone picks it up for delivery.

The company will begin operations in Switzerland this year, but plans to serve the United States as soon as possible. Raptopoulos says the Federal Aviation Administration stands in its way.

"You need two things," he told Ars Technica. "You need to be able to operate beyond the line of sight of a human pilot or observer. And we need to be able to fly over people. The FAA is not permitting these yet."

The UK and Beyond

Amazon, poised to become the biggest player in drone delivery, launched its Prime Air delivery service in England last year. The first order took 13 minutes.

It's taken a lot longer to work out the details in the U.S., however. The company first announced its plan for drone deliveries in 2013, but cannot make deliveries over populated areas under the FAA regulations.

The agency has approved drones for some commerical purposes, including surveying, agriculture and firefighting, but requires waivers for business uses. Industry observers expect it will be years before large-scale drone deliveries will be available.

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