A Kitty Hawk Moment in Drone Delivery?

The first drone delivery approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was conducted last Friday in rural Virginia. A drone operated by Australian drone startup Flirtey delivered 24 packages of medicines to a remote health clinic in Wise County, Virginia. It took the drone 3 minutes to make the journey, which typically takes a car 90 minutes over bumpy roads. Watch the flight video below:

In a Tweet, the company called this a “Kitty Hawk moment,” in reference to the Wright Brothers and their first flight.

Well, I guess you can call this a Kitty Hawk moment if you don’t count all of the other non-FAA approved drone deliveries conducted over the past couple of years — of beer, pizza, and other items.

The bigger significance of this delivery, however, is that it provides the public with a more positive and realistic picture of how drones will be used for delivery (at least initially). For many people today, when they think of drone deliveries, they envision the scene depicted in this Audi commercial, which was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds:

The reality, as I wrote back in February 2013 in Drones – The Birth of a New Transportation Mode, is that drones are best suited for delivering goods in small, less-densely populated areas, and in places where there are no roads or they are flooded or impassable half the time, which is the case in many developing countries. The use of drones to deliver medicines to patients in remote areas, or using drones in humanitarian/disaster relief operations or in response to medical emergencies, is where we’ll see the first truly beneficial applications of this transportation technology. The benefits of drone delivery were clearly evident to the patients who visit the Wise County clinic. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, “Teresa Gardner, director of the pop-up clinic, said the drone was helping to get medicine to patients who often have to wait for days for their prescriptions, if they receive them at all, because of the long drive. ‘There are at least 30-something patients that will directly benefit from these deliveries,’ she said.”

A Kitty Hawk moment in drone delivery? Not really. But it’s a milestone moment, nonetheless, in the history timeline of drone delivery, a short flight toward a future reality that will undoubtedly be different than what we imagine today.

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