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Drones offer a competitive edge for some small businesses

Posted by Carol Mahamedi

May 27, 2021    |     4-minute read (640 words)

More businesses are eyeing the last-mile delivery capability of drones as a means to keep the online business they attracted throughout the pandemic. With big players conducting pilot drone programs around the U.S., insiders say that the costs of the technology will fall and customer acceptance will increase, ushering in a new era for drone adaptation among small businesses.

How large companies are testing drones

Grocery chain Kroger is the latest name to jump into the drone delivery game, joining the likes of Walmart, UPS, Alphabet’s Wing and Amazon, with a pilot program offering packages to customers in Centerville, Ohio. 

Unlike its competitors, Kroger’s drones deliver based on a user’s smartphone location rather than a street address, opening the door for potential new customers such as beachgoers who forgot their sunscreen or families in need of picnic condiments.

Drones have also become a tool in the effort to eradicate COVID-19.  The Atlanta Hawks hired Lucid Drone Technologies to sanitize the 17,500-seat State Farm Arena in between events, and New York firm EagleHawk’s drones can disinfect indoor buildings such as government facilities and jails.

Meanwhile, construction companies are deploying drones for mapping and surveying, and utility companies are using drones to conduct inspections, speed up projects and cut costs in terms of time and money.

Drones on Main Street?

It’s not only large companies that are deploying drones – it’s also Main Street.

Mockingbird Cafe, a Virginia bakery, says drone delivery through its partnership with Alphabet drone-delivery subsidiary Wing has accounted for about 25% of its sales during the pandemic. 

Washington, D.C.-based event photographer Vadym Guliuk, who invested in a $2,500 quadcopter, estimates that about 50% of his clients now request drone video while only 15% of his competitors even offer drone service. 

Midwest UAV-owner Landon Smith first used video drones to map soybean and corn fields at the Indiana farm where he grew up. His company provides mapping services to farms with drones that can capture crop density as well as monitor picking operations in far-flung fields.  

A relatively new adaptation is also taking hold among some owners of small businesses with large areas, such as auto yards and warehouses, who are using drones to help secure their premises. Flying the drone periodically around the perimeter to monitor security prevents the need for someone to walk around the property.

Public’s distrust in drone tech can be reversed

Surveys measuring public interest in drone delivery consistently find negative attitudes and common worries about privacy and safety. But none gauged opinions from people who had received a drone delivery, so respondents were speculating about a service they had never used.

A new survey suggests that people who do have direct experience with drone deliveries are much more favorable to the concept. As reported in the spring 2020 edition of Issues in Science and Technology, a survey of residents of Christiansburg, Virginia, a community of 22,000 people served by drone delivery, found 87% of the 821 respondents liked the service. The town was the first place in the U.S. to have a residential drone delivery service, which is run by Wing.

Drone deliveries and small businesses

According to ReportLinker, the size of the drone services market will increase from $4.4 billion in 2018 to $63.6 billion by 2025. Insider Intelligence estimates that consumer drone shipments will hit around 29 million by year’s end. 

Constraints such as a maximum package weight of 5 pounds, and the cost of drones and the difficulty of dropping packages from the air mean freight and shipping operations are here for the long run.

But small businesses can potentially broaden their delivery region while paring down costs by being open to engaging in drone delivery projects.

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