How drone deliveries could save lives and make streets safer

At CES 2023, industry experts weighed in on why drones should be your next delivery vehicle.
Mike Brown
Drone delivery

Drone deliveries could help reduce unnecessary deaths on roads and improve the environment, industry experts explained Friday.

At the 2023 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) representative Abigail Smith explained that her organization looks to safety as its "north star." When it comes to delivering goods with unmanned flying machines, the technology has the potential to improve safety over current solutions.

"For example, delivering that hamburger helper via a drone versus someone getting in their car and driving to a place...potentially saved the lives of children getting hit by cars," Smith, who serves as Deputy Executive Director of the FAA's Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Office, explained to an audience at CES 2023.

It's an example of how the nascent technology has the potential to improve lives by removing the unsafe elements from existing structures. While online stores like Amazon and eBay have popularized home shopping, delivery drivers remain an integral part of the process. Unmanned delivery systems like Starship aim to remove the human from the equation, using machines to complete the process.

Smith went on to give "a really dramatic use case" where drones could save lives: crop dusting. The process of spraying crops with a protection product, Smith claimed, claims around 13 lives in the United States alone. Using drones would mean that human aircraft operators are no longer exposed to the dangers in the process.

"It's dangerous, it's dirty...I wouldn't say that it's a dull job, but it is repetitive," Smith said. "By using drones in this space, we're eliminating all death."

How drone deliveries could save lives and make streets safer
Drone delivery

Drone delivery: when will it come to my street?

Despite these potential benefits, drone deliveries remain elusive. Data from McKinsey found that 2,000 drone deliveries happen each day. That's a 300 percent increase year-over-year, but still a small fraction of global deliveries.

The analysis firm cited three reasons why drone deliveries remain limited: regulations can place limits depending on the situation, costs need to be competitive with traditional deliveries, and the public needs to accept the idea.

On the latter point, the industry may be making progress. Beth Flippo, CEO of Drone Express, explained at the same CES 2023 event that the Covid-19 pandemic has led to a surge in interest in the technology.

"Acceptance totally shifted from 'they're going to spy on me and my backyard and they're going to drop it' to 'we need to have this, where are these?'" Flippo said.

Flippo also claimed that in early trials, the team found little pushback from neighbors: "I thought for sure we were going to have some people coming out being like, 'I don't like the noise' or 'I don't want to flying over my house'...not a word."