In 2017, an estimated 3 million drones will ship worldwide, of these 20,000 are set to be registered for commercial use. Already worth $3.3 billion, the drone industry is expected to command a staggering 90 billion dollar market by 2025.
Major corporations including, Amazon, Google, Wal-Mart, FedEx and UPS are all seriously investing in drone technologies for their commercial ventures. For many logistics providers it’s clear that if drone technology can be properly regulated and controlled, the opportunities to cut costs and hasten transportation are countless.
Here are just some of the reasons why the business world is excited by the possibilities of drone delivery.
Resolving the Last Mile
For shipping providers the “last mile of delivery” between the warehouse and customer is often the most cost-intensive. Planning labor requirements and routes to ensure as many packages arrive at their destinations as quickly as possible can be a logistical nightmare. UPS estimates that if they could reduce all of their delivery routes by just one mile, then they would be able to save an additional $50 million annually. In rural areas drivers often have to travel hundreds of miles just to make a single delivery, and often these trips are hard to track and late to arrive.
Companies hope that drones can help overcome this hurdle, fostering the kind of crazy cost-cutting that UPS anticipates. By hitching drone technology to another cutting edge technology in self-driving trucks, companies envision that they can establish mobile bases for the delivery of goods, bases that are not bound to roads or limited by human fatigue. Drones can ensure each delivery is carried out safely and quickly to the correct address, securing high levels of customer satisfaction even as costs are reduced.
Improving the Supply Chain
While same-day shipment to almost any location in the world is an exciting possibility it requires a vast regulatory network to be established before it’s practically viable. One the other hand the use of drones across the supply chain is a very current reality. Drones are being used to deliver raw materials from mining sites to processors; camera-equipped drones are being used for surveillance in company warehouses and other machines are being used to aid maintenance and repair efforts by transporting tools and parts to remote factory sites or off- shore rigs. Over the next 5 years the use of drones for inspection, delivery, surveillance and basic tasks is expected to explode.
Obstacles to Overcome
For many experts however, there are still some clear and major challenges to be navigated before drone technology become a central part of business operations. Drones are still relatively light-weight and can only handle short flight durations, at most 15-30 minute flights with 10-15 pound payloads are possible. This greatly limits the distances and types of deliveries companies can hope to make with their drones, obviously more powerful drones with more robust charging mechanisms will be needed before the technology can be viable for bigger jobs.
Drones also still represent an expensive investment for many companies, while promises of savings are great in theory the reality of trusting a significant portion of capital dedicated to sensitive operations towards lightweight, fragile technologies is daunting for many businesses.
Of course managing the logistical problems posed by drones is another problem altogether. Dealing with the air traffic requirements of controlling and coordinating hundreds of unmanned flying objects will require strict guidelines and heft investment to ensure there are no massive accidents. The task of keeping these machines clear of natural and manmade obstacles not to mention low-flying airplanes is another major issue to resolve.