Technical Hurdles Delay Drone Deliveries

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from The Wall Street Journal,

Battery life and weather at least as daunting as pending regulation, say developers.

Companies hoping to use drones to deliver small packages are confronting technical hurdles such as battery life and weather that are at least as vexing as proposed U.S. regulatory limits.

Retail and shipping companies including Inc.,Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., and Deutsche Post DHL AG have been among the most enthusiastic supporters, seeing drones as potentially transforming their businesses.

But hurdles including short battery life and unreliable location data suggest it could be years before armies of drones replace FedEx and UPS vans. Companies also face obstacles such as bad weather, aggressive birds and gun-toting neighbors.

Delivery drones “are absolutely viable, but there are a lot of technical hurdles that have to be crossed,” said Nicholas Roy, a robotics professor at the Massachusetts of Institute of Technology and the former head of Google Inc.’s drone-delivery project. “We are very much in the prototype stage.”

The top two U.S. private package delivery companies think drone delivery won’t fly soon. FedEx Corp. and United Parcel Service Inc. say the technology remains far from market ready. “There remain numerous reasons why drones are not a feasible delivery technology at this time,” UPS said last month.

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