Are drones the future of logistics?

2023-10-04 12:06

Will drones disrupt the logistics industry, or just be a sideshow?


Most people are in denial about the takeover of the logistics industry by drones, which have swooned over innocent passers-by, thrown packages onto cars and smashed into glass Windows. This seems ridiculous at the moment, but is it a legitimate fear?

Ironically, the phrase "advanced technology is not necessarily intimidating."


People are still delusioned about visions of an unmanned future in which, for example, drones can deliver food to their doorsteps in ten minutes; For online shopping, JD.com's drones can deliver goods to you within 30 minutes.


But it seems that the concept of drones has been put forward for a long time, civilian drones have also infiltrated into our lives for some time, but there is no drone delivery service in life, and there is no hovering drone in the sky.


In fact, there is still a long way to go before drones can be developed in the logistics industry. Currently, the main obstacles to this development are airspace regulation, carrying enough weight, and the need for certified pilots.


What makes consumers uneasy about drone technology and digital disruption is the misconception that technology is a soulless, job-destroying machine. Many people talk about the fear of being replaced by machines when discussing the transition of new technologies.


In fact, everyone will benefit from drones. Companies, consumers, the economy, even the environment. The transportation and logistics industry is already benefiting, with drone services worth $127 billion globally, of which $13 billion is based on drone transport.


How will logistics drones unfold?


Sea transport: Once the only mode of transport for international trade, sea transport solves only a part of the application. Maritime transport has traditionally been a low-cost solution for low-value cargo, with transport capacity limited by the limited pick-up locations (ports) it offers. In addition to the limited tracking capabilities of maritime cargo, drones can enhance the inspection and review process, tracking cargo in real time as it is loaded and unloaded.


Rail freight: As with sea freight, drones can be used as a complement to rail. When trains cross the country, drones can unload packages without the train stopping, making rail freight more efficient.


Truck freight: Compared to ports and railways, truck unloading locations are more flexible. However, in dense urban areas, or remote areas with weak road infrastructure, where trucking is hampered, drones can provide a faster solution, while also eliminating the need to pay staff to load and unload trucks and track inventory.


Airlift: Aircraft are limited by fixed port locations, and UAVs offer superior point-to-point flexibility. As a result, drones promise to be a cheaper and more enveloping alternative to using aircraft for transport.


The era of drone logistics is coming


Despite the difficulties on the road to commercial drones, the obstacles will be cleared sooner or later. Domino's has started delivering pizza by drone in New Zealand; Alphabet, Google's parent company, used drones to deliver Chipotle burritos to the Virginia Tech campus; Zipline uses drones to deliver medicines faster in Ghana and other markets in Africa.


These examples may seem trivial today, but they were milestones in the development of drone technology. Due to weight restrictions, early drones carried lightweight goods such as pizza and medicine. In the future, once drone safety is guaranteed, delivery weight will no longer be a disadvantage.


Last year, Amazon offered same-day delivery instead of the next day it used to. More than 2 billion Prime members have opted for same-day delivery, and Amazon spent $800 million this year to offer same-day delivery to premium customers.


The drone in the warehouse


While commercial drones for delivery are not yet ready to take off, drones are already demonstrating their value indoors.


Supply chains have gone digital, and drones are just one part of this larger shift. Increased cost savings are critical in industries with low profit margins, and drones are helping to improve operational efficiency, productivity and profits.


The future of logistics is automation, and labor costs are expensive. Walmart, for example, which operates more than 190 distribution centers across the U.S., the smallest of which is the size of 17 football fields, has begun using drones and other warehouse robots to automate jobs traditionally done by humans.


These drones can collect data, monitor inventory, operate forklifts, update a company's warehouse management system (WMS), and other tasks. Their two drones can do the work of more than 100 people with almost 100 percent accuracy. Moreover, since technologies are not limited by human capabilities, they can work around the clock.


To sum up, drones are gradually becoming the brains and muscles of the logistics industry.

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