In 2016, Flirtey Made Drone Deliveries in the U.S. a Reality

In Nevada, some 7-Eleven customers can order on-demand medication and Slurpees delivered to their homes by drones. For real.

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When you're sick, the last thing you want to do is go to the store to get cold medicine and orange juice. So why not have a drone deliver these everyday items to you? That's what drone manufacturer Flirtey is doing, closing out 2016 with an announcement that it had completed 77 routine deliveries in November to some Nevada 7-Eleven customers.

Not that long ago, drone delivery seemed implausible at best, but soon it may be how all your on-demand product orders make their way to your home, and in record time and at low cost. Flirtey started this service on a trial run earlier this year, and became the first company to complete a FAA-approved commercial delivery to a residential customer. Amazon has been working on a similar concept in the U.K., where one of its Amazon Prime Air labs is based, but the online retailer hasn't attempted to execute their pilot program in the U.S.

Of course, there are some caveats to Flirtey's success. The start-up was able to trial this drone-delivery program because Nevada—along with Alaska, New York, North Dakota, Texas, and Virginia—is one of six states with a designated FAA Test Site. Regulations are a big hurdle for drone delivery to overcome, and the FAA requires approval of safe routes and times for commercial autonomous drone flight operations. In addition to a designated flight path, there are other restrictions that limit its operations, such as requiring maintain a clear line of sight with the unmanned autonomous vehicles (UAV) and prohibiting flying over populated residential or commercial areas.

Flirtey

For example, Flirtey made only weekend deliveries, limited the service to customers within a mile of the delivery depot, and were pre-approved to use the company's custom app to place orders. However, as the technology develops, FAA regulations may be loosened to permit more deliveries servicing a wider area.

That would be welcome news during flu season. The convenience store 7-Eleven started deliveries by offering signature Slurpee drinks and other food items when it launched the program earlier this year. These days, however, Flirtey says that it's focusing on cold medication because of the convenience it offers.

To parents with sick children at home, this could be a game-changer. It also opens up yet another on-demand delivery option for getting products they need without getting in a car. For businesses, it demonstrates that drone deliveries could help it attract—and keep—customers who are starting to expect instant delivery of everything, and prevent attrition to delivery services such as Amazon Now, Google Express, and Instacart.

In a Flirtey survey of pilot program participants, 100 percent said that they would use the service again. The company said in a news release that it will expand its program in 2017.