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Swiss Test Drone Deliveries Though Questions Still Remain About Their Future

The drone delivery force could be closer than we think—though that probably depends on how the current trial goes in Switzerland.

Drones are being used to aid in last-mile fulfillment from distribution centers to delivery vans in a five to 10-mile radius, according to The Seattle Times. The pilot, which uses drones in an urban environment, is being called a first.

The program is a collaboration between drone maker Matternet, Mercedes-Benz’s vans division and e-commerce site Siroop. Matternet is also testing a program that will enable drones to transport supplies between hospitals.

Though the Swiss government gave the trial the green light, large-scale drone usage is likely years away, as regulations still need to catch up to the innovation. Other concerns include battery life and the drone’s ability to skillfully and safely maneuver through cities and towns.

Though these hurdles remain, it hasn’t stopped e-commerce-related companies from planning for a future in which drones will supply the world. Earlier this year, UPS tested drone delivery with the autonomous vehicles launching from the roof of UPS trucks. Over the summer, Amazon filed for a patent for a beehive drone delivery hub from which it could dispatch its in-air delivery fleet.

Despite these lofty aspirations, JLL called last-mile drone delivery “a complicated undertaking” in its “A Retailers Guide to the Galaxy” report. It’s one reason why the firm anticipates drones becoming more widely used in retail stores and warehouses long before they become useful as delivery solutions.

Stores using drones will have a small impact on efficiency and customer service in the next five to 10 years. The bigger impact will be on supply chain logistics but it won’t be felt for 15 to 20 years,” the report said.

JLL said one retailer is already planning to use drones for inventory management and moving products around within its big box stores. That usage is still awhile away, but the firm said drones could realistically work in warehouses to help with picking and packing and as security surveillance around store perimeters.