‘Drone ends missing boy mystery.’ Recently, I came across this captivating story that tells how a drone helped find a missing 6-year-old boy. The article is inspiring in so many ways. It tells us how technology today can help us see and act beyond our human limitations. The work which would seem impossible for a human being, human being’s innovation has powered it. For instance, look at thyself and a drone: where we lack wings, sensors and are vulnerable, a drone can easily move over terrain, go into dangerous places that wouldn’t be fit for humans, and even guide a team of searchers across a cornfield in the dark. And technology keeps getting better, enabling drones to travel a long distance in a short time, perform much more sophisticated missions such as pizza and product delivery to aiding the military at warfronts.
The use of drones is not limited to a specific industry or set of work role. There are drones big enough to challenge a cargo plane and small as the size of the palm to carry objects. Regardless of its size and type, drones are useful for companies to maintain productivity, and currently, drones are in high demand for fulfillment purposes.
Before we set out to find the benefits of drone delivery systems for you, let’s know a bit about drone delivery.
A little About Drone Delivery
What is Drone delivery?
UAV is an unmanned aerial vehicle controlled using remote or app and used to serve different purposes – tracking, delivery, data gathering. Using UAVs for delivering products is what we call “Drone Delivery”. Today, that is one of the popular uses of drones.
How drones have evolved
While drones have been used for military purposes since 1849. The first US commercial drone permit was issued in 2006, allowing the use of drones for commercial purposes. And then a few years later, in 2010, French startup Parrot released Parrot AR Drone, the first WiFi, and smartphone-controlled drone. It brought a new ray of light for businesses and customers. In 2013, Amazon swooped in with its concept of a drone-based delivery system, and now in 2020, it’s about to start its official trials for Prime Air Delivery.
Using drones for commercial shipments with in-built GPS has been in the game for a long time. But the real revolution happened in 2016 when DJI released its Phantom 4 Drone, the first drone that used machine learning technology to track objects. From then on, there’s been no looking back. A sustainable last-minute delivery has now become the major goal of retailers and logistics.
Ways of adopting drone delivery
The reason behind the increased demand for drone delivery is the cut down on the package delivery time. Many companies are promising to deliver in 30 minutes or less, but how they adopt it is crucial to know as traveling speed, weight, and other factors have to be considered.
- Either they can deploy the drones from dispatch centers located around the city so that the drones can cover 20 or so kilometers, at least. (The average is 24km for now.)
- Or they can use the traditional delivery trucks as dispatch centers for drone delivery operations. Using road bound navigation systems, drones can deliver parcels to rural areas.
This is the present. However, IoT and technological advancement will soon eliminate the factors affecting drone delivery efficiency.
What customers are saying about drone delivery
The popularity of drone-based delivery is changing the customer delivery experience. Here’s what customers worldwide have to say about drone delivery:
- A survey by Clutch found that 36% percent are more likely to purchase an item if it’s delivered by drone.
- However, 39% say drone delivery won’t impact their purchasing decisions and about 25% say they would be less likely to order an item if they knew that drones will deliver it.
- Nearly 50% are unsure of their opinion while 31% are excited about the potential of drone delivery.
- Around 33% of online shoppers believed the delivery will be faster with drones and 21% favored the cost-effective benefit of drone delivery.
Though the uncertainties and questions are more, at present, with improvements, drone delivery technology will become the new normal serving customers with more benefits.
Benefits of Drone Delivery
- Deliver products
Delivery drones are obviously used for delivering commodities or objects. By programming, they can deliver items from warehouses to a designated area. In fact, many big eCommerce giants use top delivery drones such as Wing whereas transport companies use large delivery drones to transfer bulk materials.
- Time management
The delivery person can have several problems during delivery, such as traffic, slow driver, etc. If deliveries are made using a drone, humans may instead concentrate on order fulfillment, customer service, and other delivery procedures. This is possible because devices deliver faster due to GPS-based accurate location programs. In addition, they have a lesser error margin while locating the exact area.
- Conserves energy
Delivery drones help staff sustain commitment when transporting commodities. Mechanical devices increase workforce activity in order to perform further tasks. Moreover, it reduces the exhaustion factor since there are machines that can replace human activities.
- Saves Time
Delivery drones add a huge resource to the business it serves. It carries objects and delivers them to other locations through a remote-controlled system. Workers who were busy with delivering will have more time to work on other delivery operations in the workplace. Air traffic at that altitude is only birds after all, which makes a roadway delivery laughably time-consuming compared to a drone.
- Prompt and safe delivery
With drone delivery, you can set the time of delivery when you are at home, thereby, reducing the chances of someone tampering with your package or stealing it. On setting the time, the drone will deliver the package at that time. Another benefit is that your package will reach you in good condition. The delivery by personnel can face many dangers. As drones deliver the parcel through air, the traffic and other challenges that can damage the package are few.
Delivery drones can deliver products more efficiently to the right recipient. Their higher accuracy rate lessens the incidents of delivering products to wrong recipients. This also reduces the hassle and cost of exchanging.
- Reduces environmental pollution
When order transfers from the warehouse, it is shipped through various transports that emit fossil fuels and are dangerous for the environment. On the other hand, drones use a safe source of energy, no pollution, and no harm to the environment. By using a drone delivery system, you can contribute to saving your atmosphere from greenhouse gases.
- Promotes eCommerce
E-commerce is becoming the new shopping hub. Many people are ordering online but there are some who browse online but buy from a brick and mortar store. The main reason is that they are doubtful of the product’s condition. Another reason is the delivery time, usually package delivery takes time to reach. However, by using a drone, delivery companies can perfect their services and the customer can be sure that their product will come on time and in good condition. Moreover, people ordering expensive things have the fear of theft. With drone delivery, you can be sure that the chances of a package getting stolen are slim.
Challenges of Drone Delivery
While many drones can be autonomous, the challenges are numerous – like landing a drone in an unknown environment, dropping packages from air including the ones listed below.
- Expensive device
Though there are affordable drones, to provide a holistic approach, many large companies use drones that range between $50 for small and $500 for large drones.
- Legislative uncertainty
Since the use of unmanned aerial vehicles is not that familiar, legislation is still catching up. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has established certain rules for unmanned aircraft that apply to commercial and recreational use, but there are ambiguities like determining airspace property rights and protecting landowners from aerial trespassing. Further adding, there are conflicts between federal regulations and some state and local laws.
Drones don’t play well with weather conditions. Despite having visual and weather detecting sensors, there would be times when drones can’t face it all. For example, a drone out with lightning and rain around can be risky. Moreover, they can even damage the product. In such conditions, the chances of crashing with other aerial objects or falling down can also be high.
Delivery drones use cameras and GPS while delivering a product to a specific location. The cameras constantly record the location, property, and the person without their consent while receiving the object. Corrupt drones can exploit recorded information. Well, recording private data can also lead delivery service providers into lawsuits.
- Loss in jobs
18% of delivery people worry about losing their jobs to drones. And it’s true, with automated delivery services, many delivery people are likely to lose their jobs. Those who don’t would have to face the consequences of limited career prospects in near future.
- Technical familiarity
Operating delivery drones is a challenging task. The operator must know about the functioning of the drone. They must read the device manual and learn the procedures. All this takes time and effort to operate successfully.
- Battery defect
As drones use a lot of technology, it can easily drain the battery within a few minutes. Drones easily run their battery out while delivering to a target location. If it fails, it can fall out of the sky, damaging the delivery item and itself, not to mention the risk of falling on a person or property.
- Defective drones
Drones are delivery devices and like others, even they show malfunctioning systems after a few months of usage. Usually, it’s a factory defect left unrectified by the maintenance team. Defective drones can disrupt the delivery service.
Future of Drone Delivery
IoT! It can solve all the current drone delivery industry problems with real-time tracking, access control, data logging, predictive maintenance, and peer-to-peer automated deliveries. Using sensors, the drones will supply all the collected information to the IoT devices, including flight telemetry, trip, geo-spatial, product condition, and other time of flight data. Businesses can also control the action of drones remotely with access control.
As we saw, safety is a major challenge, using sensors, drones can check for other drones or other aerial objects in the same airspace. Through intelligence, they can also update other drones about their flight activity within certain zones so as to avoid flight crashes.
Another challenge was defective battery and drones. IoT Predictive Maintenance can predict the condition of the drone and avoid last-minute failures. Going a step further, it can also automate the processes required for a maintenance check.
Moreover, if the product is delivered from a warehouse, it can auto locate the position of the product, freeing managers from one more tedious task.
Overall, IoT is a great use case for drone delivery. With sensors and machine learning, valuable data is brought at the forefront that can later help improve functionality, economics, and safety, for future drone trips.
Also Read: Redefining Asset Management using IoT
Tech Giants and their Investment in Drone Delivery
Drone delivery has an enormous potential that encourages major giants like Amazon, Alphabet, to embrace it as the future of eCommerce. Currently, several large retailers and logistics firms around the world are researching drone delivery services and drone delivery systems to address their ‘last mile’ delivery problems.
Whereas some businesses have already taken the first step …
- First Drone Delivery – A Domino’s Pizza
The delivery of drone pizza became a reality in November 2016, when Dominos and its drone delivery partner, Flirtey, dropped an order at the customer’s door at 11:19 a.m. in Whangaparaoa, New Zealand. A team of drone experts and a pilot independently operated Flirtey’s DRU Drone by GPS navigation to drop the pizzas.
- Amazon Drone Delivery
Pizza drone delivery is one thing but when the largest eCommerce marketplace starts delivering orders using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) then it’s another story altogether.
At Amazon’s 2019 re: MARS conference, the company announced its plan to launch drone delivery services, Prime Air in a few months, which will then replace its two-day Prime shipping with two-hour Prime Now deliveries. Although official trials have not been announced yet, the news here says Amazon has also tested drones in the UK. Soon, we would have our Amazon orders delivered by drones in a limited time.
- Alphabet Drone Delivery
Alphabet’s Wing, a drone delivery service in partnership with FedEx and Walgreens, provides FedEx shipments as well as Walgreens health and wellness products. Wing’s drones deliver products that weigh between two and three pounds. In addition to improving speed and reducing costs, Alphabet also claims fuel efficiency as drones are powered by all-electric power systems. The pandemic has brought an upsurge in the Alphabet drone delivery service.
- UPS Drone Delivery
UPS Flight Forward became the first drone service to operate as a commercial airline in 2019. The company started commercial drone delivery flights with delivery services at WakeMed’s hospital and campaign in Raleigh, N.C. Since then, the company has expanded delivery services in the health care sector. It has recently partnered with CVS Pharmacy, completing the first commercial drone delivery of prescription at the customer’s doorstep.
- Walmart Drone Delivery
In 2019, Walmart set a record for filing more drone patents than Amazon in two years. And by Sept 2020, it has started making its first grocery and household items deliveries in Fayetteville, North Carolina using Flytrex’s drones.
Drone delivery is an unknown concept to many online shoppers. Though one-third of online shoppers are excited about drone delivery, nearly 1 in 15 (19%) are anxious. All this is because the options are not available for experience. As companies continue to roll out drone delivery options by leveraging IoT, making it less of a luxury and more of a simplified and automated delivery service, consumers’ opinion is likely to change.
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