Demand for drone deliveries reaches new heights during COVID-19

Drone deliveries are no longer a thing of the future as demand surges for the unmanned aerial vehicles.

Demand for drone deliveries reaches new heights during COVID-19

TechRepublic's Karen talks with Yariv Bash, the CEO of FlyTrex about the increased use of drones during the COVID-19 pandemic. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation. 

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Karen Roby: Tell us about the drone delivery business as it stands today.

Yariv Bash: As you might as well notice, the delivery drones have been a promise for many years now. [Jeff] Bezos [owner of Amazon] spoke about that like five years ago. And since then, you're not getting your hamburger [delivered via] drone, most likely in the States or anywhere in the world. But in the past two years, the FAA really decided to push that forward. It began with an executive order from President Trump almost two years ago. And now we're near the end of a very long regulatory process with the FAA on making drone deliveries a reality in the States.

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I think that even before COVID-19 there was a lot of motivation to get things learning and moving forward. As you said, COVID-19 is really making a change. We've been seeing a lot of high motivation from the regulators to help push forward even faster. Nobody's lowering the bar, nobody's willing to take any bit off the level of safety that we have to adhere to. But from what we're seeing in the past two months, regulators like the FAA are willing to push forward a lot faster than they did before. Before the pandemic we had a weekly call with the FAA. Today we've got almost every day a conference call with them. So things are progressing really nicely.

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Karen Roby: How has demand for your services changed since COVID-19.

Yariv Bash: We've been getting a lot more inquiries and requests since the epidemic started, from all over the world. And of course from the US as well. It starts with medical supplies, but at the end, if I can help you stay at home and increase the social distancing by even just doing grocery shopping for you or bringing your food back home, then drones could be a part of the solution for the pandemic.

Karen Roby: What does drone delivery service actually look like?

Yariv Bash: When those drones are cruising above you, you can't really see or hear them. They're pretty small. They're a lot smaller and quieter than a Boeing flying above your city. And a lot safer than a Boeing flying above your city. Let's face it. We're talking about ultra fast deliveries. For instance, in our project in Iceland and now in North Dakota, people can have their Dairy Queen or Walmart delivered in 15, 20 minutes directly to their backyard. Companies that are doing medical supplies can deliver PPE, for instance, or medicine to hospitals that are 50 miles away, within an hour. That's a lot faster than any current alternative and a lot cheaper.

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Karen Roby: Expand a little bit on the upside of using drones versus traditional airplanes.

Yariv Bash: If you think about it, getting a one-ton car with a human being inside to get you a hamburger feels a bit silly. Drones are much more lightweight. They're a lot quieter. They're 100% electric, so they're greener. And at the end, you can use that same person to just handle and automatically operate a fleet of drones so that person can become much more effective in making those deliveries. At the end, that translates to a better service at a lower price to both the consumers and the retailers. On-demand today is prohibitively expensive.

Karen Roby: Six months to a year down the line, what do you expect the drone delivery business to look like?

Yariv Bash: We expect that in the next six months, we'll see the first companies that will finish going through the certification process by the FAA, which basically gives you the green light to start flying above the United States, on a federal level. There are still some problems with flying what's called beyond visual line of sight. That's something that still needs to be solved. But I guess that within the next year, we'll start seeing deployments on smaller scales, smaller towns, parts of cities. When I'm talking about smaller scales, I'm talking about a few dozens of drones per location. 

The regulatory process continues. We learn how to traffic manage all those drones in the air simultaneously. You can have hundreds of drones, flying drones flying above your cities, but they'll be basically replacing a lot of cars with a lot of humans in them. They'll be lowering the traffic jams. They'll be lowering the car accidents and basically helping to preserve, again, a city in a good environment.

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Karen Roby talks with Yariv Bash of FlyTrex about the high demand for drone delivery. 

Image: Mackenzie Burke