Pros and cons of autonomous drone delivery services

Our cities are growing at a scale that no one can ever imagine! Unfortunately, this rapid urbanization has several negative implications: congested roads, pollution, and decreased efficiency in the flow of people and goods. No matter what the city planners do to keep up with the pace of urbanization and population growth, they can only provide temporary relief. But drones (unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs) can be a lifesaver in solving the biggest logistics challenge, i.e., the first and last-mile delivery in big cities, taking traffic off the roads and into the skies.

The last two years saw a wave of changes in drones and logistics industries with companies like Matternet, Zipline, Skycart, and Flirtey running pilot programs delivering food and retail products using autonomous drones. Flirtey recently became one of ten companies in the US to become part of the Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program, which is accelerating the integration of drone delivery operations in the country.

Flirtey recently launched its new delivery drone – the Flirtey Eagle and plans to start the delivery of medical defibrillators and commercial packages by the end of 2020. According to Flirtey, drone delivery can cut more than half of the cost of the average delivery, especially for places out of reach of current delivery services. Drones can deliver a package in less than 10 minutes, and one operator can run about ten different drones. They lower the packages using a tether.

How does drone delivery work?

An autonomous first and last-mile drone delivery network can look as follows:

  • The shipments arrive from outside the city limits.
  • They are sorted automatically at existing facilities (hubs, warehouses, cross-docking sites) based on specific criteria such as size, weight, and time-critical.
  • Each UAV automatically picks up assigned shipments from a conveyor belt and takes off.
  • The end customers, equipped with an app, get alerts when the drone is nearby.
  • The drone uses GPS data from the customer’s smartphone to identify the location and make delivery direct to the customer location.
  • The drone safely and precisely delivers its contents by lowering a tether, while the drone is suspended in the air.
  • Once the package is delivered, it retracts the tether.
  • In case of returns, it picks the package up right from the first mile of the customer.
  • On its way back to the hub, the UAV can also carry out point-to-point deliveries that lie on its route.

The potential of drones is also evident in rural locations with poor infrastructure or challenging geographic conditions. They can transport vaccines to rural places and alleviate first and last-mile delivery problems and improve cost, quality, and coverage of vaccine supplies.

Pros:

  • Deliver products quickly to virtually any location
  • Cut more than half of the cost of the average delivery, especially for places out of reach of current delivery services.
  • Eliminate possible human errors, such as negligence, willful act, wrong recipients, etc.,
  • Lesser margin of error, compared to humans while locating the exact targeted area.
  • Deliver goods to inaccessible or remote places with poor communications and transportation networks.
  • Operate 24/7 in 95% of wind and weather conditions, making it highly reliable for flight.
  • Significantly reduce last-mile waiting times from two to three days to as little as two to three minutes.
  • Reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 90%
  • Reduce road congestion. Lesser delivery trucks and vans on the road.
  • Allow companies to divert their current human resources toward creative, innovative pursuits.
  • Create a safer delivery system for delivery personnel by reducing the risk of road-based activities and dangerous environments, such as a slippery entryway and stairs.

Cons:

  • Very expensive. Require a significant investment to create a network of drones.
  • Quickly drain their battery with just a few minutes. It requires an improvement in battery technology.
  • Easily fall from the sky or accidentally release its package.
  • Safety concerns due to possible drone crash near schools or crowded places.
  • Higher risk of failure and malfunction during delivery operations, when compared to traditional options.
  • Privacy threat in the densely populated urban environment.
  • Easily get lost or stolen. It’s hard to replace or find the missing drones.
  • Difficulties in the integration of drone networks into existing complex urban infrastructures.
  • Lack of unified global aviation regulations about crew certification, medical qualification, etc.
  • If the delivery drone fails, there will be an increase in customer complaints, product costs, and insurance premiums.
  • Fewer job opportunities for entry-level, unskilled workers.

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