Australian drone delivery startup Flirty has a motto that foretells the future, “Real-time delivery by flying robots. Anytime. Anywhere. It’s delivery, but way better.” And on March 10, 2016 Flirtey brought that future into focus with the first FAA-approved urban drone delivery in the United States. In so doing, it also beat out online retail goliath Amazon. Flirtey has already successfully used drones to deliver textbooks in Australia and auto parts in New Zealand.
The GPS-guided delivery of supplies including bottled water, emergency rations, and a first-aid kit took place in Hawthorne, Nevada. The autonomous hexacopter lowered the package by a rope, dropping it gently onto the front porch of an unoccupied house, without human intervention. According to Flirtey CEO Matthew Sweeney, 86% of packages are 5.5 pounds or less, and the drone is designed to carry payloads that size up to 10 miles away.
In July 2015, Flirtey conducted a test for rural drone delivery in Virginia. This latest urban flight tested the drone’s ability to navigate around buildings, power lines, and other urban structures to make a precision drop-off in a populated area. Flirtey’s partners for the test included the Nevada Advanced Autonomous Systems Innovation Center at the University of Nevada at Reno, the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems (NIAS), Virginia Tech, and NASA.
According to Sweeney, in the past two years the FAA has granted the commercial operates the ability to fly and operate at an exponential rate, moving faster than many observers anticipated. Currently, the FAA has a reauthorization bill before Congress, which is envisioned to specifically include an authorization for drone delivery. He believes that the regulations are moving at a faster pace than many people realize. We are rapidly approaching a time where drone delivery is a reality, not just in the United States but around the world.