Drone Applications: Object Transportation and Delivery

The massive growth of e-commerce services, along with the adaptation of advanced technology, has enhanced the requirement for affordable and faster delivery options. Logistic and e-commerce around the globe are investing massively in technology to develop a fast and effective delivery system to enhance customer experience and deploy their products faster.

There are multiple factors that can create significant hurdles in a traditional delivery system. As a result, drones have emerged as an alternative option. Drone delivery reduces human effort, delivery costs and the required time.

The market for Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) or drones is estimated to attain a market value of $4.8 billion by 2021. Along with being an effective delivery medium, drones have a vast potential in various fields, including security, geographical mapping, videography, agriculture, etc.

A brief overview of drones

A drone is an unmanned aircraft that can be flown to conduct operations. It has propellers similar to helicopters to help them attain altitude and change direction. It can be operated with the help of a transmitter controlled by a pilot or even programmed to fly in a desired trajectory.

Drones were initially designed for the purpose of surveillance and were capable of carrying small items like a camera for recording. Further, it was used by law enforcement agencies to carry out emergency operations. It was also incorporated in civil applications including surveillance, fire fighting and policing.

History of drones in delivery

The first legal incident of conducting object transportation with drone took place on July 17, 2015, in the United States. In that operation, a drone remotely operated from Lonesome Pine Airport in Wise, Virginia, made three complete trips to deliver medicine to a nearby fairground.

A drone manufacturing start-up Flirtey along with a couple of organizations providing healthcare in the rural areas of Virginia conducted this operation jointly.

Benefits of using drones in delivery

Drones are revamping the delivery sector across the globe. There are various benefits that they offer. Some of them are mentioned below.

• Affordability

The most crucial leg in delivering a product is ‘the last mile’. It is a delivery pathway between a warehouse of a company and the final delivery location. As the process includes delivery of a single product, fuel costs, maintenance costs, labor costs can be extensive. Drones, on the other hand, can reduce such added costs and also deliver the product faster.

• Faster response time during emergencies

A matter of minutes can save a life in case of emergencies. Delivery drones are capable of bringing first aid and supplies to an affected individual. Also, modern-age drones with a higher carrying capacity can deliver medicines, blood and medicinal equipment.

For instance, if an individual is suffering from a cardiac arrest, drones can be used to deliver a defibrillator if it takes a considerable amount of time for paramedics to reach that scene. Individuals present at the scene can communicate with the paramedics via the remote video system present in the drones and perform the required actions.

• Reduction of pollution

Drones are powered by rechargeable batteries. As most of the drones are powered with the help of lithium-polymer batteries, it can be recharged using renewable energy resources like solar power. Hence, reducing the requirement of fossil fuels and curbing pollution.

Drones are commonly considered to cause noise pollution owing to the buzzing sound they generate during their flight time. Since drones are not that widely used now, it may not be a problem yet. However, with drones being considered to be a prime delivery medium in the future, a fleet of drones in a neighborhood can create a substantial issue.

To address this condition, Edgar Herrera, an inventor in this field, developed a blade-less drone. Although this drone is not in production yet, it is likely to solve the primary obstacle for the use of such technology in the future.

Companies implementing drone delivery

i. Amazon

Amazon is one of the first companies to start experimenting in the field of delivery by drones. It claims to deliver packages within 30 minutes with their drone-based system. They have invested massively in their system called Amazon Prime Air and are working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to develop safety and regulatory standards for the system.

Over the past few years, Amazon is conducting experimental flights and has acquired the U. S patent for the technology they have developed. Furthermore, they are also working on a new technology where drones can obtain a GPS location with the help of their mobile phone signal.

It has also established a new development center in Carbide to conduct the trials for its new systems. Along with partnering with the Civil Aviation Academy in the U. K to run tests in the country, Amazon is also doing similar experiments in countries like France and Austria. In 2016, Amazon successfully demonstrated their delivery drone Prime Air in the U.K.

They are also looking to increase the carrying capacity of their drones. Currently the maximum capacity is limited to 5 pounds. Furthermore, their experimentation includes developing automated drones which are capable of navigating various obstacles like power lines and posts.

Also, the new experimental procedures include operations of such drones in suburban and rural areas. The company is looking forward to determining the scenario that can arise if drones fly at a range that is out of an operator’s sight. The FAA has limited the flight range to 122 meters owing to the safety reasons.

ii. Google

Google started its experiment with drones in 2014 as a part of Project Wing under Google X. The project was initiated to reduce emission and congestion in populated cities while increasing the efficiency of delivery through automated systems. The brand has conducted their experiments in Australia as the country has relaxed laws regarding such technologies.

Google is aiming to start a drone delivery service in Australia from 2019. The drones will be able to travel at the speed of around 80mph and will deliver small packages to precise locations.

Furthermore, Google also initiated their research program Alphabet X in partnership with Chipotle Mexican Grill to deliver packages to the cafeterias present in the Virginia Tech campus.

iii. FedEx

FedEx is one of the most famous delivery service providers across the globe. It has been conducting experiments in partnership with various drone manufacturers to automate their operations.

It has also been chosen to participate in the Federal Aviation Administration’s Unmanned Aircraft System Pilot integration program to aid in developing regulations in the field.

iv. DHL

DHL launched a helicopter styled drone in 2014 called ‘parcel copter’ to deliver medicines to a remote island of Juist. They have been using this drone ever since to deliver medicines and for research purposes. Furthermore, they also conducted a three-month trial using the third generation parcel copters to deliver medicines autonomously to a couple of communities. DHL is the first company to incorporate delivery drones in its supply chain.

Estimated growth in the market of drones

The use of UAV’s in commercial and civil applications is expected to grow immensely in the foreseeable future. Delivery drones (under 10 kg) are expected to lead the market for drones by the end of 2022. The primary expected reasons behind such growth are –

• Introduction of GPS modules

• Sense and collision avoidance

• Dual batteries

• Dual flight controllers

• Reducing the cost of drones

North America is expected to be the largest market for such emerging technologies with the highest predicted CAGR in this period. Rising interest in drones as a medium to deliver packages has increased the number of venture capitalists investing in the sector. Furthermore, the relaxation of restrictions from various federal authorities also ensures that the concept of delivery drones will be implemented very soon.

Best drone companies

Companies offering the best delivery drones are as follows –

• Matternet

• DJI

• 3DR

• Parrot

Drones are likely to be the future of delivery systems owing to the plethora of benefits they offer. Companies across the globe are already competing against each other to initiate this system first. With proven benefits in military operations, drones are expected to succeed in the commercial front as well.

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