UAVs can transport medicines and vaccines, and retrieve medical samples, into and out of remote or otherwise inaccessible regions.
Early prototypes of food delivery drones include the Tacocopter demonstration by Star Simpson, which was a taco delivery concept utilizing a smartphone app to order drone-delivered tacos in San Francisco area. The revelation that it didn't exist as a delivery system or app led to it being labelled a hoax. A similar concept named the "burrito bomber" was tested in 2012. That same year, a Free University of Berlin student project examined the use of drones for pizza delivery. In 2013, as part of an advertising campaign, an independent Domino's UK franchise tested the Domicopter. Similar flights were conducted in India and Russia, but lacked regulatory approval.
A partnership between 7-Eleven and Flirtey resulted in the first FAA-approved delivery to a residence in the United States in July 2016. The following month, the company partnered with Domino's in New Zealand to launch the first commercial drone delivery service.
Marriott International used drones to deliver cocktails and drinks to the tables of guests at multiple properties in 2017 including the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Chicago, IL. The hotel chain formed a partnership with DJI in 2016, and used the company's drones for its indoor drink delivery.
Different postal companies from Australia, Switzerland, Germany, Singapore and Ukraine have undertaken various drone trials as they test the feasibility and profitability of unmanned delivery drone services. The USPS has been testing delivery systems with HorseFly Drones.
In February 2014, the prime minister and cabinet affairs minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced that the UAE planned to launch a fleet of UAVs for civilian purposes. Plans were for the UAVs to use fingerprint and eye-recognition systems to deliver official documents such as passports, ID cards and licenses, and supply emergency services at accidents. A battery-powered prototype four-rotor UAV about half a meter across was displayed in Dubai.
In the United States, initial attempts at commercial use of UAVs were blocked by FAA regulation. In June 2014, the FAA published a document that listed activities not permitted under its regulations, including commercial use, which the organization stated included "delivering packages to people for a fee" or offered as part of a "purchase or another offer." In August 2016, updated FAA rules were enacted. The new rules included guidelines for commercial use of small UAVs stating they must weigh less than 55 lb (25 kg), fly up to a maximum of 400 feet (120 m), at a speed of no greater than 100 miles per hour (160 km/h), could only be operated during daytime, and that drone operators must also qualify for flying certificates and be at least 16-years old. In June 2017, the United States Senate proposed legislation to allow package deliveries by drones. In October 2017, a Presidential directive was issued that called on the FAA and Transportation Department to work with local officials to create initiatives that would enable American companies to eventually use drones for delivery purposes.
Amazon Prime Air - Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos' December 2013 announcement that Amazon was planning rapid delivery of lightweight commercial products using UAVs was met with skepticism, with perceived obstacles including federal and state regulatory approval, public safety, reliability, individual privacy, operator training and certification, security (hacking), payload thievery, and logistical challenges.
In December 2013, in a research project of Deutsche Post AG subsidiary DHL, a sub-kilogram quantity of medicine was delivered via a prototype Microdrones "Parcelcopter", raising speculation that disaster relief may be the first place the company will use the technology.DHL Parcelcopter is currently in trials in Germany.
In July 2014 it was revealed Amazon was working on its 8th and 9th drone prototypes, some that could fly 50 miles per hour and carry 5-pound packages, and had applied to the FAA to test them.
In August 2014, Google revealed it had been testing UAVs in Australia for two years. The Google X program known as "Project Wing" aims to produce drones that can deliver not only products sold via e-commerce, but larger delivery items.
In February 2015, Hangzhou based e-commerce provider Ali Baba started delivery drone service in a partnership with Shanghai YTO Express in which it delivered tea to 450 customers around select cities in China.
In May 2015, CJ Express announced a partnership with the Ministry of Public Safety and Security for disaster relief, becoming the first private company in South Korea to operate delivery drones.
In March 2016, Flirtey conducted the first fully autonomous FAA approved drone delivery in an urban setting in the U.S.
In April 2016, a joint project in Japan involving the central government, Chiba City, research institutions and companies including Rakuten was launched to trial home drone deliveries in an urban area. A similar test project was carried out in Naka, Tokushima in February 2016 as a way to facilitate shopping for people who live in a depopulated area.
In Japan both the e-commerce behemoth Rakuten and retail giant AEON have undertaken package delivery tests. AEON conducted a drone delivery test which involved delivering a bottle of wine, toward targeting actual drone home delivery services for the year 2019 for Aeon Mall, the company's online shopping site. Rakuten on the other hand, which in early 2016 delivered refreshments and golf balls within a golf course, expanded upon that test service and in November 2016 performed a new test of package delivery service with upgraded capability. Making improvements over the previous test, Rakuten partnered with mobile phone company NTT DoCoMo to integrate the use of the cellular LTE network for long distance delivery capability testing. And in addition to modifications to the product ordering app and drone control dashboard, the new delivery drone included a number of performance enhancements including water-resistance, long-distance flight with fully autonomous control and was equipped with a parachute to slow the speed of the fall in an emergency, offering a greater level of safety. The delivery of cargo using the drone was carried out at the Inage Seaside Park in Chiba City, Japan and adjacent sea area.
In December 2016, Amazon made its first drone delivery using a drone in the United Kingdom.
In China, JD.com has been aggressively developing its drone capabilities. As of June 2017, JD.com had seven different types of delivery drones in testing or operation across four provinces in China (Beijing, Sichuan, Shaanxi and Jiangsu). The drones are capable of delivering packages weighing between 5 and 30 kg (11 to 66 lbs) while flying up to 100 km/hr (62 mph). The drones do not deliver goods directly to people's homes. Rather, they automatically fly along fixed routes from warehouses to special landing pads where one of JD.com's 300,000 local contractors then delivers the packages to the customers' doorsteps in the rural villages. The e-commerce giant is now working on a 1 metric ton (1,000 kg) delivery drone which will be tested in Shaanxi.
Flytrex, an Israeli startup which specializes in developing drone delivery solutions[buzzword], partnered with AHA in 2015, Iceland's largest eCommerce website, and together they initiated a drone delivery route which would shorten AHA's delivery times from 30 minutes, to less than 5. The system was deployed on 25 August 2017 and is now delivering food and small electronics via drones.
In January 2018, Boeing unveiled a prototype of a cargo drone for up to 500 lb (227 kg) payloads, an electric flying testbed that completed flight tests at the Boeing Research & Technology research center in Missouri.
UPS in association with Matternet started a three year medical delivery trial in Raleigh At the 2019 AI conference, Amazon announced that the drone deliveries will start rolling out in select US cities within months. The service was delayed previously due to safety and regulation approvals.
Zipline International Inc. signed a deal with the Rwandan government, allowing the construction of a medical distribution center near Muhanga. Rwanda has a mountainous geography and poor road conditions making an aerial delivery system more efficient as of May 2018 they have delivered over 7000 units of blood this way.
The design of the electric aircraft, called Zips look like small propeller airplanes, enabling them to fly fast and over a long distance (typically 150 km on a single charge), in any weather short of a hurricane, they cannot independently takeoff or land instead using an Assisted take-off and for landing they use Arresting gear.
In October 2018, Vanuatu (a nation made of several islands) awarded contracts to two companies Swoop Aero Pty Ltd of Melbourne, Australia, to cover health facilities on the Epi and the Shepherd Islands (as well as Erromango Island with vaccine delivery) and Wingcopter Holding GmbH & Co. KG of Darmstadt, Germany, to deliver vaccines to facilities on Pentecost Island. Both companies use VTOL type aeroplanes that can take off and land without specialist equipment or runways.
Amazon decided to use drones to speed up the shipping service so that it can save time. The goal for Amazon is to deliver packages to customers within 30 minutes. The Amazon drones are fully controlled by computers and they access GPS to deliver objects. Amazon started discussing this topic in 2013 and they have been testing it, but they are still working to demonstrate a safe operation.
By February 2019, Zipline International has delivered over 10,000 packages in Rwanda. The company now runs two distribution centers (one in Muhanga and another in Kayonza, Eastern of Rwanda), where they plan to scale up to essential emergency medicines all over the country.
On 19 April 2019, a drone has flown from Saint Agnes Hospital to the University of Maryland Medical Center of Baltimore, delivering a kidney that has been successfully transplanted into a 44-year-old woman.
Drug cartels have used UAVs to transport contraband, sometimes using GPS-guided UAVs.
From 2013 and 2015, UAVs were observed delivering items into prisons on at least four occasions in the United States while four separate but similar incidents occurred in Ireland, Britain, Australia and Canada as well. Though not a popular way of smuggling items into prisons, corrections officials state that some individuals are beginning to experiment with UAVs.
In 2014 a quadcopter crashed into an exercise yard of Wheatfield Prison, Dublin. The quadcopter collided with wires designed to prevent helicopters landing to aid escapes, causing it to crash. A package containing drugs hung from the quadcopter and was seized by prisoners before prison staff could get to it.
Between 2014 and 2015, at two prisons in South Carolina, items such as drugs and cell phones were flown into the area by UAVs with authorities and one prison not knowing how many deliveries were successful before gaining the attention of authorities.