Federal regulators are still working on rules to govern commercial drone flights in the US, but that isn't stopping businesses from pushing forward with their own plans. 7-Eleven on Tuesday announced that it's already completed a month of regular autonomous drone deliveries to a dozen select customers.
The convenience store chain has partnered with the drone delivery service Flirtey, and they recently completed their first government-approved, fully autonomous drone delivery from a store to a customer's home.
In November, the two companies completed 77 deliveries of items like over-the-counter medicines, as well as hot and cold food items. Customers placed their orders via an app that let them track the progress of the delivery -- from the moment the drone was loaded to its departure and arrival. Rather than landing, the drone hovered over its destination and dropped its delivery in the customer's yard.
Around the same time 7-Eleven and Flirtey made their first drone delivery, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued its first drone regulations, which stated that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) must stay within a pilot's line of sight and cannot fly directly over people.
While it's a pretty prohibitive rule, these flights took place within just one mile of a 7-Eleven store and were all flown autonomously within a line of sight. On average, the November deliveries took less than 10 minutes from the time the order was placed. A Flirtey operator was in the loop to take over if needed, but Flirtey CEO Matt Sweeny told ZDNet over email that this wasn't necessary. He also pointed out that 25 percent of the US population lives within one mile of 7-Eleven store.
Delivering over-the-counter medicine has been a focus for Flirtey because of the value drone deliveries would offer consumers with sick kids (or who are battling colds themselves).
Similarly, UPS announced it has started testing the use of drones for urgent deliveries in difficult-to-access locations within the US. Meanwhile, Amazon Prime Air launched its first drone delivery in a private trial in the Cambridge area of England earlier this month.