International delivery company UPS is backing a start-up using drones in Rwanda to transport life-saving blood supplies and vaccines, underlining the wide potential for the unmanned aircraft and helping bring package delivery by drone to U.S. consumers a step closer.
U.S. companies are keen to use drones to cut delivery times and costs but hurdles range from smoothing communication between the autonomous robots and airplanes in America's crowded airspace to ensuring battery safety and longevity.
As far back as 2013, online retailer Amazon said it was testing delivery using drones and Alphabet's Google has promised such a service by 2017. Leading retailer Walmart is also testing drones.
But UPS, Walmart, legal experts and consultants say overcoming U.S. regulatory hurdles and concerns over drone safety will require vast amounts of data from real-time use — with testing in the near-term limited to remote areas of the United States or in other countries.