As consumers come to expect faster and faster delivery times, delivery or cargo drones could provide a low-cost, speedy solution.
Initially drones were primarily associated with the military and aviation sectors, however, they are now being increasingly used for various activities within the leisure, non-profit and commercial spheres. In this piece, we will look at how retailers and logistics companies could use drones to deliver parcels to customers.
Unlike delivery trucks, drones can travel “as the crow flies” and this allows them to avoid traffic and complex navigation paths. The speed of drones is a major selling point for customers, of which 79% say they would be “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to request drone delivery if their package could be delivered within an hour (Source: Walker Sands Future of Retail 2016 Study). What’s more, faster delivery times could potentially reduce shipping costs for customers, and this, in turn, may result in a sales boost for retailers. Advocates for delivery drones posit that this technology could work in tandem with existing transportation methods to facilitate faster and cheaper fulfilment of goods.
The average truck delivery of a package creates about 1kg of greenhouse gas emissions. A 2018 study published in Nature Communications revealed that the use of small drones instead of diesel-burning delivery trucks could help tackle climate change by reducing energy consumption as well as the release of greenhouse gases. Businesses could lower their transportation emissions by supplementing traditional road haulage with electric-powered drones.
Last mile delivery refers to the movement of goods from a transportation hub to their final destination. Usually the most expensive and difficult leg of a package’s journey, last mile delivery makes up roughly 50% of the total cost of distribution. The implementation of drone technology could optimise last mile delivery by transporting packages from nearby warehouses or distribution centres to a specific address.
UPS offers one possible way that drones could be used within last mile logistics. They suggest installing mini-helipads on the top of their trucks. According to their estimates, eliminating just one mile from the routes of each of the company’s 66,000 delivery drivers could save up to $50 million.
- Costa Samaras, Civil Environmental Engineer at Carnegie Mellon
The single biggest obstacle facing delivery drones is, in fact, a legal matter rather than a technological one. Many countries have laws in place restricting the flight of commercial drones in certain areas. For an example of some of the restrictions that apply to drones in Ireland, check out the below graphic from the Irish Aviation Authority.
Limited battery technology means that currently, a single drone carrying just one package to one destination can fly just a little over two miles. What’s more, whereas cargo drones typically have a very limited capacity of only 5kg, delivery trucks can carry hundreds of packages at a time. However, advocates for delivery drones argue that with the current rate of innovation these technological limitations could be resolved within a few years.