Drones have been in the headlines for years in various ways. Will drones be the future of logistics?

Drones have been in the headlines for years in various ways. There have been many stories surrounding amateur and hobbyist use of the remote controlled aerial vehicles, but more and more companies are looking to use drone technology to assist with their logistics.

Google and Amazon were among the business giants to launch campaigns for using the aerial vehicles to assist with package deliveries.  Will thousands of drones take to the skies to transport large items? Will container ships and trucks become ancient relics as we rely on new sources of transportation?

Delivering today’s work load?

While there is excitement with the new technology, experts are claiming that the drones won’t be able to handle the heavy loads anytime soon. While the capability of drones grows every day, weights and volumes will be an issue.

The global logistics infrastructure handles more than 17 trillion dollars’ worth of goods every year. While Europe ships 2.2 billion tons every year, the US transportation system is the largest in the world, transporting nearly 16 billion tons of raw material and goods.

The average 4th generation drone can only carry up to 11 lbs of weight during a single flight of 10 minutes. The longest flight time achieved is only 30 minutes with a max speed of roughly 25 mph.  It would take 3.2 trillion drones to move all the cargo transported in the US with each one needing to be replaced after 30 minutes.

Playing a support role in global logistics

Limited range delivery

One area where drone use will see a significant increase is delivery from the store or warehouse to the end customer. Customers can order a product online and a drone would be dispatched to their location the same day for delivery. This would work well for smaller areas given drones limited range.

Inventory management

Drones will also assist in inventory management, which will require larger and heavier duty drones to complete the jobs.  Larger drones could move between warehouses, bringing needed supplies from one point to another to balance inventory levels without sending out a truck.

Customer returns

Additionally, drones have the potential to assist with claims and customer returns. Drones could be dispatched to a customer home to pick up a defective product or a heavier duty drone could send back damaged products from a pallet of freight.

Current uses of commercial drones

Until recently, commercial drone use has been illegal in the US. Under new FAA rules, drone flights will be approved for certain commercial use: agriculture, research and development, inspections of power lines, pipelines, antennas, and bridges, educational and academic use, aiding rescue operations, aerial photography, and wildlife nesting area evaluation. There are also plans to allow the flight of sub 55 lb drones flying at altitudes up to 400 feet and speeds up to 100 mph.

In order for the US logistics industry to adopt the use of drones, the laws will need to be modified further to accommodate the needs of the business. Drones will also need to be adapted to larger scale, heavier load bearing and longer battery life. For now, larger scale transport will need to remain in the hands of ships and trucks until drones can handle a heavier load and longer distance.