The pandemic is giving unmanned deliveries a fillip

UNMANNED VEHICLES, airborne or earthbound, have been pressed into anti-pandemic service the world over. In Mexican slums they spray disinfectant from the sky. “Shout drones” with loudspeakers scold socially undistanced Americans, Chinese and Europeans. Most consequential, the popularity of contactless provision of food and medical supplies is boosting the drone-delivery business.

Before covid-19 MarketsandMarkets, a research firm, reckoned this would generate revenues of $800m this year. Now it says $1bn is closer to the mark, and has revised its forecast for 2022 from $1.6bn to $2.2bn. Many other analysts agree.

Drone-delivery firms typically operate vehicles on behalf of corporate clients. Some bigger drones, like those made by TwinswHeel of France, which can carry up to 300kg, can cost $20,000 or more apiece, as much as a van. Kiwibot of California makes $2,500 cart-like drones.

Kiwibot’s pre-pandemic fleet of 20 or so has grown to about 50, ferrying meals and shopping in two Californian cities, and two others in Colombia and Taiwan; 500 more Kiwibots are in production. Using them adds just $2 to a shopper’s bill. Another Californian firm, Starship Technologies (which despite its name makes wheeled drones), has seen its fleet expand three-fold in a year, to 1,000 across five countries

Since wheeled...

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