Blog Post

September 23, 2020

Are drones a practical solution for last mile delivery?

In 2019 Drones started getting a bad press when activists started using them to disrupt aircraft landing at London airports.

In 2019 Drones started getting a bad press when activists started using them to disrupt aircraft landing at London airports. But there is a positive side as well. We know they have uses in intelligence gathering for the military as well as predicting severe weather. They have been used to measure the intensity of hurricanes. They are also in use in remote areas of Africa and outback Australia where they are used for delivering much needed medical supplies.

As far back as 2014 Amazon announced that they were testing drones for commercial
deliveries – so called ‘last mile deliveries’. But is this practical and will it really provide some sort of commercial advantage?

Various trials have taken place around the world with major players such as Alphabet (Googles parent company) Amazon, Airbus and others getting licenses for trials. Obvious issues include the regulation of flight paths, identification of authorised and registered drones and of course what happens to the package when the drone comes to a landing?

It seems to work in rural and outback areas, but can it really work in highly populated urban areas?

Drones are being used by logistics companies outside of the ‘last mile’ scenario. They are being used in large warehouses and storage facilities to check inventory – something which traditionally is time consuming and very costly using manual labour. Of course, it requires a computer screen, artificial intelligence, and RFID sensors. Drones are also being used in Ports and to ferry equipment to and from ships.

The coronavirus has also opened up the market for drones monitoring crowd situations scanning for individuals with say, high temperatures. They are also being used to break up crowds using loudspeakers to alert crowds to the fact they are being watched.

But back to urban deliveries – is there a practical way of delivering packages to an urban environment. An Australian company called Blktatu have developed a unique solution – the use of nets to catch packages.

There is no doubt the use of drones has advantages over traditional delivery – it is considerably less expensive than a ‘man in a van’ – less delivery vehicles on the road has positive environmental effects and in many cases – for light deliveries can be more efficient.

The issue of urban delivery centres around accuracy of the coordinates, safety when the drone lands and the security of the package at the delivery point.

The Blktatu solution solves all three issues – there is no danger of the drones moving parts harming humans or animals because it doesn’t land – it opens a trapdoor and drops the package. Normally drones are accurate to a coordinate distance of 10 metres – but with sensors on both the drone and the net this is drastically reduced. As for security if the net receptacle is exclusively yours – your delivery can come to your balcony even if you are on the 20th floor – not a full urban solution – but a step in the right direction.

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