Delivery Drones: how soon can we expect to see them?

Delivery Drones: how soon can we expect to see them?

The use of delivery drones has the potential to have an unprecedented transformative impact on logistics. New developments are frequent and well documented suggesting that the pace of research and development in delivery drone technology is increasing as the big logistics players vie to be the first to reach operational deployment. There can be no doubt that a time is coming when we will see a percentage of package deliveries being completed by drones.

UPS have recently announced that, alongside drone makers Workhorse Group, they have successfully tested a rural package delivery. The drone launched from the top of a moving UPS package car, delivered a package to a home and then returned to the still travelling package car. The obvious time-saving capacity of this does not require pointing out but UPS are keen to demonstrate also the potential for emissions reduction that the drones indicate. These are not UPS' first venture into drone delivery. In Rwanda, alongside other organisations, they use drones to deliver blood and vaccines to remote locations.

Gartner, forerunners in IT research, have been taking a keen interest in drone development and confirm that growth in both the personal and commercial sectors is rapid. They predict that drone production for 2017 will total at around 3 million; if they are correct, this will be an increase of 39% over production in 2016. Global market revenue will be more that 6 billion USD and will continue to grow. Drones are big business and development speeds up when demand is high.

The indicators for commercial drone development are good but there are some derogatory factors that may delay or reduce the impact of drone deliveries on the logistics sector:

1. The influence of unstable drone legislation

Governments have struggled to keep up with the pace of drone development. This has meant previously a measure of uncertainty that has been enough to impact on take-up, however, the legislation situation is now levelling out and more companies are gaining confidence and testing drone technology. In the UK, the government has worked specifically with Amazon to bring forward Amazon's ambitious 30 minute delivery times.

2. Potential Return on Investment

The ROI of delivery drones has not yet been adequately examined. These drones are more expensive than domestic ones, requiring longer flight times, higher load capacity and specialist sensors to increase safety. Operational costs too have yet to be calculated.

3. Logistical complications

Any remote technology is bound to have logistical complications to iron out. In order to operate effectively, delivery drone systems need to be able to do three things: avoid collisions, operate beyond the sight capability of its pilot and enable one pilot to safely operate multiple drones.

Gartner's senior research analyst Gerald Van Hoy's prediction is that delivery drones will not even count for 1% of the commercial market by 2020. UPS has not been put off, however, and has an ongoing programme that is looking at how drones can be utilised in warehouses, as on-site security and in niche areas like Rwandan aid. As technology and understanding develop, it is maybe just the capacity to safely organise hundreds of drones that is holding drone delivery back.