I recently read an article on wired about near instant and same day delivery in the San Francisco area. This all seems ridiculous if you imagine it using existing technology, ie using a human to drive a delivery vehicle around. This all changes if you can envision the future as I see it in around 10 years. Below I discuss some future scenarios and possible catalysts that could bring them to reality.
***Update 12/1/2013: Amazon just announced Amazon Prime Air - A drone delivery service! I will dig in and get some more details.
The current state of drones and multicopters is still dominated by hobbyists and hackers. I am certainly one of these, and I have purchased lots of these to experiment with the functionality and to explore commercial applications - mostly photo and video services. However, there are several catalysts that are in the near future that could drive a revolution in potential uses for drone delivery.
The most important issue (and potential catalyst) concerning any drone business or delivery system is going to be regulations regarding airspace. The FAA is set to rule on this and provide some clarification and lay down some ground rules above and beyond the requested 500 foot ceiling and commercial prohibitions. I say requested because they are not laws, just directives. This will probably change in 2014/2015.
For anyone interested in using drones for commercial use, you will want to pay close attention to what the FAA does. Hopefully they will allow the operation of commercial drones under the current 500 foot ceiling, because this will allow for the creation of air highways, similar to routes frequented by airplanes flying between cities but designed for local delivery services. These routes will need to be created to avoid flying over roads and areas frequented by pedestrians and cars to minimize damage and injury in cases of malfunctions.
Technological advancement is the other major catalyst that will drive a revolution in delivery and it is in no way out of reach or beyond our current capabilities - it just needs to be developed. In order for a delivery network of drones to become active, a few different technologies need to be refined (made accessible and cheap). One of the most important ones is going to be sense and detect technology that would allow for avoidance maneuvers. This is nothing new and just needs to be refined and adapted to smaller aircraft.
Another important piece of technology that needs to be developed is some sort of macro flight control system to keep track of all drones flying in a designated area. Telemetry and ground control systems are already becoming reality in the hobbyist space so building some tech that would conglomerate all operating drones in an area should not be that difficult. This data on all drones operating commercially could then be conglomerated into existing flight controller data in airports so they would know where drone operations are.
There are so many interesting developments on the horizon for multicopters and drones in general. This is an exciting space in its infancy. If you have anything to add, please feel free to comment below or contact me through the contact page.