Two Italian heavy-lift drones deliver 52 kg of cargo in Turin
Despite the obvious potential of autonomous commercial drone deliveries, these services are taking an agonizingly long time to hit the mainstream. The issue is mainly a regulatory one; the technology's been more or less ready for years, but authorities are nervous to unleash swarms of UAVs over populated areas, even if the alternative is unleashing swarms of motorcycles and electric delivery bikes onto the streets. If safety's the issue here, you do have to wonder which option has the worst stats.
Either way, there are a number of trial operations going on, such as Wing's very popular service in Queensland, Australia, and last week, Italian company FlyingBasket staged its first urban heavy-lift transport flight with a pair of impressively large deliveries in Torino (Turin).
Partnering with Aerospace/Defense company Leonardo and the Italian postal service, FlyingBasket deployed two of its beefy FB3 drones, each carrying some 26 kg (57 lb) of cargo, from the postal co-ordination center to a destination some 3.9 km (2.4 miles) away, after which the drones returned. As impressive as that payload is, it's just over a quarter of the 100 kg (220 lb) the FB3 is capable of carrying.
To ensure the safety of everyone except local kayakers, the drones were flown mainly over the Stura di Lanzo river. One carried its load in an internal compartment, the other in a sling hung on a hook, meaning it can lower the payload on a cable and drop it off without ever needing to land.
The Italian aviation authority, ENAC, authorized the mission. It's not the first commercial drone delivery in Europe – Wing's operation in Helsinki, for example, already lets you airdrop yourself lunch and a coffee, and other operations are slowly beginning to open up. The large payload, though, makes it clear just how handy these things will be in logistical operations beyond direct-to-customer deliveries.
One gets the sense that when these services get the green light to start full-scale operations, they'll have an instant and transformative impact. Short-range food deliveries will be faster than ever before, and possibly cheaper. Delivery jobs will be put under extreme pressure, removing a lot of vans, small trucks, motorcycles and ebikes from the roads. The buzzing sound of small propellers will become a familiar urban lullaby, and long spells of bad weather will cause boxes to pile up at logistics centers. It'll certainly be an interesting transition.