Unmanned aerial devices (UAVs) or drones have seen great success in the military and recreational spheres. They’re currently being eyed by large companies such as Amazon, UPS, Walmart, and Google. Amazon, for example, would like to use them for small package deliveries. However, there are a few road bumps slowing down their adoption into the commercial world. The main one is the FAA setting up a drone regulatory framework for their commercial use.
Amazon has tested small demo drones capable of delivering 5 pound packages to destinations 7.5 miles distant, then returning. Even with payload weight and range improvements, product distribution from a warehouse to end users will be limited to small package delivery to nearby locations. Drones don’t represent a big threat to the trucking industry. Instead, they should prove to be a useful tool.
UPS in collaboration with Workhorse, has successfully tested a drone that’s launched from the top of a delivery truck. The idea is to use drones as delivery helpers. Rather than driving to all delivery locations, a UPS truck can reduce its mileage and save time by launching a drone to handle some deliveries while the truck handles the others. After the drone delivers its packages, it rendezvous with the UPS truck along its driving route. This works especially well in rural areas where delivery stops are farther apart.
The downside to this increased productivity is that it reduces the number of delivery trucks needed to cover a particular area. However that’s inevitable with any productivity enhancement technology. Improved employee productivity means you need fewer employees to accomplish a task. However, another way of looking at it is that the technology allows the same number of delivery trucks to cover more areas in the same amount of time.
Although the greatest use of drones lies in small package delivery, there is talk of using larger pallet lifting drones to move inventory between multiple warehouses. This could reduce the need for short-haul trucking. On the other hand, large cities present a challenge for drones because apartments within high-rises are inaccessible to them. Bad weather presents another problem. Even gusty winds will interrupt their deliveries.
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