Human-less transportation is gaining in importance. Cost reduction, efficiency increase, or a general change in workforce and market conditions are reasons for that. For a long time, drones were perceived as gadgets useful for photography or video shooting. This is far from the truth nowadays. Drones have evolved and are now able to carry very heavy payloads. They find applications in both the military and the private sector. In the following article, you can read more about the cargo drone market and its development.
Last-mile transportation is one of the key logistical challenges companies have to solve. City centers are getting increasingly populated and congestions on highways and freeways increase as a result. Alarming amounts of air and noise pollution are created as a result, threatening the health of millions. Alternatives need to be found to slow down this development. A new technology expected to find application soon, are drones. How, where, and why drones find use in transportation will be talked about below.
Customer expectations and preferences changed over the years. The advancements in technology have made customers expect fast and reliable shipping. The introduction of same-day-shipping services as Amazon’s service puts further importance on fast reliable shipping methods. The company is promising products ordered in the morning to arrive at 6 PM at the latest and overnight parcels are promised to arrive before 1PM (Kastrenakes, 2020). The company already has a large network of logistics centers that hold many items in stock, allowing to reduce shipping time. Loading all of them onto trucks which then must drive through congested streets makes time planning a nightmare. This is where drones will come into the place soon. Drones are becoming a major transportation method in logistics. Broadly speaking they can be divided into final-mile delivery, long-distance, high-value delivery and large unmanned cargo aircraft (LUCA) (Jordan, 2019). The market for non-military drones in logistics is estimated to be $US 5.5 billion worldwide (Hader & Baur, 2020). Drones have already evolved from being tools for hobby photographers to masters of freight transportation. Smaller cargo drones can carry weights of almost 110kg (Hoversurf, 2020). Larger prototypes manufactured by the Chinese Beihang Technology company can carry payloads of up to 2.2 t (Jordan, 2019). Besides the flexible application aspect, drones have another major advantage. Since drones are unmanned with only a few surveillance centers, freight companies can cut personal costs. With truck freight especially, most notably in the US, there is a distinct lack of drivers. By using unmanned drones these future problems can be avoided by transportation companies. Yet, the technology is still in its infancy.
Very strict airline and airspace regulations slow down the development of the technology. First companies like Amazon, UPS, and DHL are experimenting with drones as a last-mile alternative. The companies want to use drones to deliver parcels from the logistics center-right to the customer's doorstep without major human interference. UPS for example started UPS Flight Forward™ Drone Delivery which already supplies people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic with medical supplies and food (UPS, 2020). The importance of drones in the future will increase substantially.
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