Drones are already revolutionizing many industries, including agriculture, construction, mining and recently logistics. Drone delivery is not new, many companies in China have been offering drone delivery options on a small scale since 2013. However, since drone technology has evolved at a rapid pace, more and more companies are looking at offering drone delivery services to keep up with customer demands and reduce the costs of logistic operations. There are many benefits of drone delivery, and it is an industry that is set to grow exponentially over the next few years.
One area of logistics where businesses are always trying to improve their performance is last-mile delivery. This is when a package is shipped to its final destination, according to business insider, this final part of the journey is also the most expensive for business.
For these reasons and more, businesses are looking for more faster, cheaper and environmentally friendly ways to get their products to their customers—and drones might be the answer. Here’s what businesses need to know about the benefits of drone delivery.
The Benefits Of Drone Delivery
Drone delivery has many advantages over traditional methods of delivery. Especially in the last mile delivery where companies must meet the demand of consumers wanting faster and cheaper delivery services. Drones offer a faster and more efficient way of delivering goods, especially in rural and remote areas. However, like many industries that adopt a new type of technology, drone delivery systems face some hurdles to their growth and success. These hurdles include safety issues, technological and logistical issues, and legal issues
Faster Delivery Times – Drones are easily deployed, and most drone delivery systems are semi-automated. As soon as the package has been attached, the drone will have all the info it needs from the central command to deliver the package to its destination. Drone flight is completely autonomous and there will be no issues with traffic and congestion. The shortest route will be easily calculated, and customers will get an accurate time of arrival.
Reduced Costs – There are several areas where using drones for delivery will have reduced cost benefits and improve a company’s overall bottom line. Drones are cheaper to purchase and operate than the traditional methods of transportation for last-mile delivery. And because they are battery powered, there is no expense for fuel. There are also reduced labour costs as the actual drone delivery operation is fully autonomous.
Autonomous & Safer Delivery – With accurate GPS technology and advanced navigation systems, delivery drones will fly completely autonomously in the final part of the delivery process. Packages will be delivered at either the customer’s home or at a designated point where customers can collect the package by scanning a QR code or something similar.
Easier Delivery To Isolated/Rural Areas – Drone deliveries have been of huge benefit for rural and hard to reach communities, especially for delivering vital supplies like medicine and life saving equipment. Zipline is a drone delivery company that specialises in this area, they have been delivering vital medical supplies in countries like Rwanda and Ghana within 45 minutes of an order being placed. Drones have also been used in to deliver covid-19 vaccines to many rural communities around the world.
Good For The Environment – Logistics companies are always looking at reducing their carbon footprint to help reduce their fuel costs and fight climate change. By using drones in the final part of their supply chain, they can drastically reduce their use of fossil fuels, save costs, and help improve the environment.
Disadvantages Of Drone Delivery
When any industry adopts a new form of technology to solve many of its problems, there will be challenges that need to be overcome so that the system works efficiently and has the desired outcomes.
Drone delivery systems are in their early stages of development and although there are many companies operating drone delivery services successfully, there are still challenges that need to be addressed so these operations can be scaled faster.
Some of disadvantages of drone delivery include the following:
Rules & Regulations – lobbying government organisations to ease regulations so that it makes it easier for companies to start a drone delivery service.
Initial Costs – The initial investment in getting the infrastructure for a drone delivery network will be time-consuming and expensive. There will be costs for the drones, building the delivery network, training staff to operate the system and other related costs.
Only local deliveries – At the moment even the most powerful drone has a very limited flight time, this is mainly because they are powered by lithium-ion batteries and flight time is limited to around 1 hour and this has to include the return journey. So companies are only providing drone delivery services on a local basis.
Weather – Because of their relatively small size when compared to other aircraft, drones will be susceptible to bad weather. Although many of those designed for delivery services have been built to be flown in rainy and cold temperatures, they will be a risk to operate in very windy conditions.
Hack/Theft – As these drones will be flow at low-altitude, they will be vulnerable to criminal activity. Some may even try to hack into the drone and take over its control system and divert its destination.
Privacy – There may also be issues with privacy concerns of citizens, for security reasons, many drones will be fitted with cameras to prevent theft. However, if the camera is continuously recording during the delivery, it will pose some privacy issues.
Future Of Drone Delivery
The future of drone delivery looks very promising, this is an industry that is set to grow rapidly over the next few years as more companies see opportunities to break in to this area and establish themselves as a major player in the industry.
Accoridng to some recent research, the market for autonomous last-mile delivery is huge and is set to be worth a multi-billion dollar industry by 2030 with aerial drones playing a huge role in this growth.
As drone delivery has been instrumental in many remote communities getting vital medical supplies like the covid-19 vaccinations, people will be more open to getting thier delivery via drones.
Drone Delivery Companies
I have a more comprehensive article on the many companies and organisations that are offering drone delivery services that you can check out here.
Most drone delivery services, especially those in countries like the USA, Canada and certain European countries are only delivering lightweight packages like food, takeaway and medical supplies.
One company that I have not listed below is Amazon, their Prime Air drone delivery service first had its trial run in 2016, however, since then, their program seems to have stalled and there has been very little update regarding their progress.
So, below are some of the well-known companies providing drone delivery services:
Wing – Owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, Wing has been offering drone delivery services in Australia, Finland and the USA. They have had the most success in Australia where they have partnered with many local retailers and restaurants to provide drone delivery service for essential items and takeaway food. Since the start of their operations, they have made over 200,000 drone deliveries and is Australia they are sometimes making over 1000 deliveries a day. Check out the video below to see how Wing has partnered up with Coles and making drone deliveries in Austrailia.
Drone Delivery Canada (DDC) – The largest drone delivery provider in Canada, DDC was founded in 2014 and they provide an all-in-one drone delivery system. They develop their own drones and currently have 4 in service and have also developed their own flight management software called Flyte. Their service is being used in a wide range of applications ,especially in healthcare where their drones have helped deliver covid-19 vaccines to remote communities.
FlyTrex – This is an Israeli based drone delivery start-up, they provide a turnkey solution for drone delivery services and currently operate in Iceland and the USA. In the USA, they operate in certain areas of North Carolina and have recently gained permission from the FAA to carry out drone delivery operations in Dallas, Texas. They mostly deliver lightweight items from local grocers and restaurants and their drones have a payload capacity of 3kg and can make a 5-mile round trip on one battery charge.
Zipline – Founded in 2014 and based in San Francisco, Zipline is revolutionising drone delivery services for medical supplies. They design and manufacture their own drones and have delivery networks in Rwanda where they distribute the majority of the country’s plasma and other vital medical supplies. They also operate in certain areas of Ghana providing vital medical delivery to remote communities and have recently partnered up with US retail giant Wal-Mart to provide drone delivery services in Northwest Arkansas.
Matternet – Based in the USA, this silicon valley company provides a full-service drone delivery solution for healthcare organisations and local retailers. They have their own drone, software and logistic solution for fast and efficient drone delivery for vital medical supplies. The company has partnered with companies and organisations in the US, Switzerland and Abu Dhabi to provide a drone delivery network for medical supplies to hospitals and health clinics.
SkyDrop – Another drone start-up based in the USA, SkyDrop offer a full-stack drone delivery service and have partnered with local retailers, healthcare providers and restaurants to deliver food, grocery and medical supply within a 10 minute window. Their delivery system has been developed in-house this includes the drone, portable launch pad and flight management software.
Meituan – This is a Chinese company that runs an online shopping platform that connects consumers who use their app with local businesses. They have partnered with many of these businesses to offer deals to consumers in the form of vouchers. The company also offer drone delivery services for takeaway food in certain parts of the City of Shenzhen, They have an innovative approach to delivering food via drones, after an order is dispatched, one of their drones will land on vending machine type of appliance where customers can pick it up by scanning a QR code.
JD Drone Delivery – JD.com is one of the largest online retailers in China and has been making deliveries via drones since 2016. The company has their own logistics arm and design and manufacture their own drones. They provide drone deliveries to rural communities and also transport heavy cargo between their warehouses. Their drones look like helicopters and they have a huge payload capacity of a few hundred kg and a long transmission range.
Alibaba – Alibaba is China’s largest retailer, and they first began delivering goods by drone in 2015. In 2017, they delivered goods over water for the first time which was a milestone for them. In 2018, they purchased Ele.me which is China’s largest food delivery company, Ele.me recently started drone delivery in certain areas of Shanghai.
In conclusion, drone delivery technology offers many benefits, including improved delivery times, reduced CO2 emissions, and optimized routes. However, drone delivery technology faces challenges that need to be addressed or it will hinder its progress. Currently, regulatory restrictions, are hindering widespread adoption. As drones become safer and more readily available, the potential for drone delivery to become a widespread solution among commercial businesses, retailers, and consumers is expected to be realized.