“Back in March 2020, as the magnitude of the pandemic became clear, questions began regarding how commercial, readily available drones and their operators could aid in the relief efforts, specifically in the area of delivery. When asked, we answered confidently and directly, ‘We have no idea.’ Nobody did.” Tom Walker, CEO of DroneUp

When Tom Walker, CEO of DroneUp, began his keynote address, everyone expected to hear a glowing story of their current success. Afterall, they had just landed one of the most visible partnerships in the industry with Walmart. But instead, Walker instantly proceeded to share insights into DroneUp’s journey, which started with knowing next to nothing, making a series of—sometimes humorous—mistakes and learning from those mistakes to developing a promising model for consumer drone delivery that gained the trust and support of a major retailer.

“As a nascent industry, we don’t have many people wanting to tell you everything—the good, the bad, or indifferent, they only want to tell you that everything is rosy,” explained Walker when asked about why he shared these stories. “One of the reasons for lifting up the hood a bit was that I wanted to show that it’s okay to be transparent, it’s okay to show the screwups and the things that go wrong. Sure, others may laugh at it, but I guarantee they will go back to their team to ensure they don’t make that mistake. By sharing these stories, we have made the industry better.”

In addition to helping the industry learn, he really wanted to emphasize that they didn’t do this alone.

“It was awkward at the beginning and what we were doing was crude, but the moment that we opened the door to this kind of open-source network and collaboration across the industry—look how fast we evolved!” Walker told Commercial UAV News. “I don’t think we can do it alone. I wanted the audience to know that we are looking for industry collaboration and partners and to emphasize how important this is. I wanted to demonstrate the magnitude of what we can accomplish when we actually do these types of partnerships.” 

When we look at all that needs to get done from regulations, logistics, technology, and public acceptance, it is clear that growing this industry will take a village, but it isn’t always clear how we go about building that community—Walker’s speech modeled what that looks like just by sharing DroneUp’s story with transparency and honesty.

After participating in the panel discussion, “Are We Witnessing a Breakthrough for Consumer Drone Deliveries?” with Grant Guillot of Adam and Reese, Robin Grace of MassDOT, and Kofi Asante of Elroy Air, Walker emphasized just how important this level of transparency is going to be in the future, when it comes time to integrate heavy lift drones into drone delivery logistics.

“Last mile drone delivery is going to be part of a broader ecosystem,” Walker explained. “Eventually, we’re going to have a hub and spoke type network where heavy lift drones will move between delivery hubs, and then smaller drones will distribute items doing that last mile delivery—we’re not working together yet. We aren’t ready to either. But I think that it is important that we stay in communication with companies like Elroy Air, as well as with state and local agencies, because at some point, we are going to get sophisticated enough and these two parts of this intermodal delivery system are going to have to come together. The earlier we have those conversations the better that process is going to come together.”

As we continue to deal with empty shelves and shortages due to COVID-19, Walker’s message has never been more important. This industry has a lot of potential to solve some very complicated and fragile supply chain issues that have only been amplified as a result of the pandemic, but only if we develop viable solutions. Transparency, partnerships, and collaboration can help us get there faster. 

Watch the Panel’s discussion and Tom Walker’s full keynote below: