We’ve been hearing about the future of drones, and particularly drone deliveries, for quite a while now. The skies, we’re told by starry-eyed futurists, will soon be full of swarms of drones stealthily leaving packages on our doorsteps.
It hasn’t quite happened that way yet. There are many reasons for that: technical, logistical, regulatory, legal problems, etc. It’s also important to weigh the pros and cons of delivery by drones.
In other words: is it even a good idea?
Drone Delivery: The Good, the Bad, and the Iffy
Okay, let’s break it down and take a look at some of the arguments for and against using drones for that crucial final mile distribution.
Obviously, there are some good points for developing drone delivery technologies. Otherwise, the idea wouldn’t have been mooted in the first place.
One of the biggest pluses for designing a drone delivery industry is the environmental benefit. If intelligently developed, a drone infrastructure would be far more energy-efficient and would greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Not only would a drone delivery system generate a lower carbon footprint, but this effect would be magnified by reducing ground-based freight delivery. This could have other important, unforeseen effects—such as easing congestion on overcrowded highways and transportation networks and leading to more efficient warehousing practices.
So what could be bad about developing a drone delivery infrastructure?
Well, plenty. First of all, there isn’t really a secure system in place for drones to leave unattended packages. We’ve all heard about the notorious “porch pirate;” imagine thieves following drones to their destinations, or maybe even shooting them out of the air to recover the packages.
Which brings us to the next issue in the drones controversy. The regulatory framework just isn’t in place and doesn’t seem likely to appear anytime soon.
Where would drones fly, to avoid air traffic routes? Who is liable, if a drone plummets from the sky and harms someone? What about insurance for stolen or damaged packages?
There are a few other factors that might delay the use of drones for package delivery:
- Quieter machines: Have you ever heard a drone? It sounds like a gigantic bee is about to carry you off. Developing quieter technology is a must if this service is ever to take off (pun intended).
- Longer flight times: This is important. Most drones have a flight time of perhaps 30 minutes. More powerful batteries need to be designed so they can fly further and longer.
- Safety systems: More sophisticated collision detection and avoidance systems will be needed before delivery drones become commonplace.
These are just a few of the more prominent drone problems that will need to be tackled before a UAV delivery system can be set in place. These are really just a matter of innovation, however. If there’s a will and a lucrative market, these issues can be easily ironed out.
Current Drone Delivery Systems
It may come as a surprise that, despite some of the above-mentioned hurdles to on-the-fly delivery by drones, there are actually quite a few networks already in place around the world.
Let’s take a look at some of them.
Despite a recent crash, which forced the temporary suspension of its program, the Swiss Post will resume its otherwise successful drone deliveries. Using the Matternet M2 Parcel Delivery Drone, the Swiss Post has been ferrying medical payloads to hospitals in Switzerland for several years.
DHL’s Parcelcopter program, which uses a sleek little Wingcopter VTOL drone, has been operational since 2016. Like the Swiss Post drone service, DHL’s program is designed to transport medical supplies and matériel to remote regions with inadequate existing infrastructure.
Probably the most ambitious UAV delivery system is Project Wing, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet. Using the Wing delivery drone, which operates with an efficient electric engine and can achieve speeds of 74 mph, Project Wing has already inked deals with FedEx and Walgreens.
Surprisingly, the biggest drone parcel delivery service in the world is the little-touted Zipline company. This US-based robotics and drone technology company operates medical drone deliveries in Africa, for the transport of human blood plasma and vaccines to remote locations.
Zipline has deals with the governments of Rwanda and Ghana and has already revolutionized healthcare in these rural African countries. Healthcare workers just text a request for a blood or vaccine drop, and it arrives 30 minutes later by drone.
Which goes to show you that drone delivery systems are already changing the world.
The Future of Drones
Drones delivering small packages is one thing. But what about drones capable of transporting larger cargo?
After all, there’s much more to logistics than the final delivery of goods to the customer. The freight business is dominated by containerized shipping, and the need to transport large amounts of cargo for long distances is at the heart of the business.
Some companies are exploring the production of full-blown cargo drones. Boeing, for instance, is developing a big drone capable of hauling up to 500 pounds of freight. Sabrewing’s Rhaegal RG-1 cargo UAV is an all-weather vehicle designed to handle up to 1,000 pounds.
There’s even more on the horizon. From modular drone pods to self-sailing drone ships, it’s practically certain that we’ll see drones involved in just about every facet of future shipping.
Face the Future With the Pros
While it’s interesting to speculate about the future of drones, and what role they may play in shipping, it remains the case that logistics is still a matter of trusted shipping companies.
Drones or no drones, getting goods and products to your customers is always going to require a friendly face and a bunch of pros who know what to do. For your business shipping and courier needs, contact Expressway Courier today.
Whether with drones, planes, trucks or even on foot if we have to…we’ll get your stuff to its destination.