2017 Drone Year in Review: Progress with Delivery Drones, Drones for Good, and More

BY Zacc Dukowitz
27 December 2017

The drone industry moves a mile a minute, which means that when you look back at an entire year there is a lot of ground to cover.

As we approach the end of 2017 we wanted to take a moment to look back at just a few of the major milestones we’ve hit in the drone industry over the last year, and also take a look ahead to 2018 and what we might we expect to see in the near future.

Drone Deliveries

A year ago drone deliveries would have been at the bottom of our list of things to look for in 2017. Toward the end of 2016 there was so much hype and so little action that we had started to ignore drone deliveries, since it seemed like something that would never actually happen.

But now we have drone deliveries taking place all over the world, even as you read this. Below is a list of those companies who are making moves when it comes to drone deliveries, and the milestones they hit this year.

Amazon

In January, Amazon filed a series of patents for drone designs that were clearly targeted at deliveries. The month before filing these patents they had announced making their very first drone delivery in the U.K.

Zipline

In August, Zipline made headlines for their drone delivery network in Tanzania, which was designed to transport crucial medical supplies to remote regions throughout the country.

Zipline Muhanga Overview

Flytrex

In September, Flytrex launched one of the first ever drone delivery programs in Iceland. The program is fully up and running, and Flytrex plans to expand delivery offerings to other countries and cities.

Flytrex Drone Delivery in Reykjavík, Iceland

Matternet

Also in September, Matternet announced news of the first autonomous drone delivery network in Switzerland for carrying blood tests and other diagnostics between hospitals.

The Matternet Station

Project Wing

In October, Alphabet’s Project Wing announced their drone delivery program for carrying burritos to people in remote areas in Southern Australia. The fact that Alphabet, Google’s parent company, saw enough potential in drone deliveries to create their own company so they could get in on the action in and of itself indicates that drone deliveries are here to stay.

BURRITOS BY DRONE! We’re teaming up with Project Wing to fly burritos!

Flirtey

Also in October, Flirtey announced a plan to deliver defibrillators via drone to people suffering cardiac arrest. The program will first be rolled out in Nevada, but is not yet active to our knowledge.

Flirtey Wants to Use Drones to Deliver Defibrillators

When you look back at these milestones from 2017, in many ways it was the year of the drone delivery. Drone delivery companies made major strides this year, launching fully operational delivery programs that are providing help (or burritos, as the case might be) to people all over the world.

Note: This list is not exhaustive. There are certainly other companies involved in drone deliveries, but these are the ones who really pushed things forward in 2017.

Drones for Good: Hurricane Harvey’s Landmark Moment

Drones have historically suffered from bad a public image—in the common narrative (as it used to go), drones are only used to kill people or spy on people.

But 2017 saw some radical changes to the public perception of drones. During Hurricane Harvey, not to mention the other storms and hurricanes that followed, we saw drones being covered in the news in an incredibly positive light.

The response to Hurricane Harvey will be looked upon as a landmark in the industry.

– FAA Administrator Michael Huerta

Since Harvey we’ve seen drones in the news in many other positive ways, including the L.A. Fire Department’s recent launch of their drone program to support fire fighting efforts against the worst wildfire they’ve ever experienced.

FPV Racing Sweeps the World

When you look back at what has been accomplished in drone racing over the last year, the stats speak for themselves.

The Drone Racing League

In 2017 the Drone Racing League raised another $20 million, and won a Guinness World Record for the fastest drone in the world. Their second season, which took place this year, was broadcast in more than 75 countries and included 16 hours of original content.

The 2017 Season is Here | Drone Racing League

DR1 Racing

In 2017 DR1 Racing hosted the very first drone race to appear on network television, and it received about 600,00 live views, beating out several other events like premier soccer and Showtime boxing.

DR1’s DHL Championship Series took place at some stunning locations throughout the world, and their races were broadcast in over 100 countries this year.

The Road to the DHL Champions Series Finals Part 1

In a space as big and diverse as the drone industry it’s impossible to cover everything in one article. These are just a few of the milestones that we think were important in 2017, though there were certainly many others (stay tuned for a look back at drone regulations in 2017—that topic is so big we’ve set it aside for it’s own article).

Looking Forward

As we look forward to 2018, here are some things we’ll be keeping an eye out for:

  • Drone deliveries to start heating up, and take place in more and more countries . . . maybe even here in the U.S.
  • Drone taxis may actually start looking viable—more on that in our recent passenger drone year in review article.
  • Public agencies to start adopting drones more and more. By 2020, we wouldn’t be surprised if having a drone program at your police or fire department will be the norm instead of the exception.
  • Niche applications like 3D mapping or aerial thermography will see an upswing when it comes to the kind of work dronepreneurs are doing, and aerial cinematography will see a corresponding dip.
  • Construction and other industrial applications will continue to grow like crazy, and will result in highly specialized drone pilot skill sets, and highly specialized drones to go with them.

That’s all for now folks. See you next year!

Zacc Dukowitz

Contributing Writer

Zacc Dukowitz is a contributing writer, and the former Director of Marketing for UAV Coach. A writer with professional experience in education technology and digital marketing, Zacc is passionate about reporting on the drone industry at a time when UAVs can help us live better lives. Zacc also holds the rank of nidan in Aikido, a Japanese martial art, and is a widely published fiction writer. Zacc has an MFA from the University of Florida and a BA from St. John's College. Follow @zaccdukowitz or check out zaccdukowitz.com to read his work.

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