While drone technology has been around for some time, it is only recently that it has seen widespread adoption. These unmanned aerial vehicles have steadily evolved in terms of quality, affordability, and versatility. Drones are helping to spread into several fields; they are no longer the purview of hobbyists alone.
The maritime industry is relatively open to the use of drones. In this article, we take a look at the exciting new world of drone cargo delivery. It discusses the obstacles of drone shipping and provides you with a probable response to the original question: could drones soon replace conventional shipping methods?
Current Scenario of the Shipping Industry
Container ships’ revolutionary effect on the shipping sector cannot be overstated. More than 90 percent of the world’s goods are carried by these ships, according to CNBC. Container ships are undoubtedly the market leaders in the transportation business. According to the Ministry of Shipping, around 95% of India’s total trade volume and 70% of India’s total trade value occur via sea transport. The shipping industry makes use of a wide variety of vehicles, including trucks, planes, trains, and even drones.
Shipping is the least expensive method, but it also takes the longest. Shipping from Mumbai to New York can take more than a month. Long-distance transport typically involves trucking or rail because these vessels are confined to port regions. While air transport is the quickest option, its potential is constrained by high costs.
Air delivery has become increasingly popular in response to rising consumer demand for speed, creating an opportunity for unmanned aerial vehicles. The logistics and transportation market for drones is expected to grow from over $24 million this year to over $1.6 billion by 2027. These increasing numbers might signal a major shift in the shipping industry.
How does the Drone Delivery Work?
Let’s back up a bit and discuss (not physics) about how the drone delivery system actually functions before we go any further.
Rotor blades allow drones to take off, move forward and backward, and spin 360 degrees. With all those motors, it’s only natural to wonder what happens when a drone’s battery runs low and it needs to return to its charging station as soon as possible.
Two potential approaches to this problem have been investigated. Amazon Air will be the first to offer this service, with plans to release drones from several distribution hubs across the country. The range of these Amazon drones is approximately 16 kilometers. Amazon would need to set several distribution centers across the country to make this a reality.
UPS (American package delivery firm) has identified an alternative means of launch. Here, UPS delivery vans will double as mobile control centers for unmanned aerial vehicles. These drones will be equipped with the van’s on-board navigation system so they may make deliveries while on the road.
While in Air
While drone flying is undoubtedly determined by the laws of physics and aerodynamics, there are also numerous more elements that influence drone flight. Drones rely on complex algorithms and sensors to detect obstacles in their path and identify moving items in flight. For safety purposes, these unmanned aircraft use GPS to guide them to their destination. Drones have automatic sense and avoid (SAA) systems to keep them from crashing to the ground or into other aircraft. This is just a primer, but rest assured that every organization is hard at work on its own method for secure drone delivery.
Are companies making serious efforts for Drone Delivery?
We are speeding up the transition to a drone-delivered future. Amazon, Google, UPS, Zipline, DHL, Domino’s, and a handful of others are all making significant strides to implement this technology. This means that the concept of delivery drones flying above our homes is no longer the stuff of science fiction.
There are now two primary designs undergoing testing.
a) Land and detach package and
b) from-air lower package to ground
Land and detach delivery requires the drone to land in a consumers garden, driveway. Whereas, ‘from air lower package to ground’ works by delivering packages via a cable while the drone remains in air at a safe height.
There are many courier companies which have already started using drones to deliver packages. Here is the list of few.
Amazon is serious about bringing this technology to market, and the company’s efforts in this direction have begun to bear fruit. Once Amazon’s Air service is up and running, the company can use small drones to transport products weighing up to 5 pounds in 30 minutes or less. The company’s drones are powered solely by electricity, and they claim they can go up to 15 miles in the air. They debuted their latest Drone design in June, and it can take off and land vertically like a helicopter. Amazon Air’s research and development teams are spread across five continents.
Alphabet Inc. (Google’s parent company) has a wholly owned subsidiary called Wing that has made a name for itself in the drone delivery market. Having obtained the FAA’s inaugural “Air Operator Certificate,” it was the first of its kind. With this approval, a corporation can legally operate as a US airline. The company’s purpose is to alleviate urban traffic and contribute to cutting carbon emissions. Unmanned aircraft will be able to avoid colliding with other drones, human piloted planes, and other impediments including trees, buildings, and power lines thanks to a traffic management system currently in development.
Drones under the owner’s wing may fly up to 113 kilometers per hour for a distance of around 20 kilometers. These drones have a takeoff weight of roughly 4.8 kilograms and can transport items weighing up to 1.5 kilograms.
One of the major logistics firms, DHL, has teamed up with drone industry experts EHang to test out unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for package delivery in Guangzhou, China. The same company that successfully hoisted a single-seater autonomous flying taxi to new heights has done so again.
Ehang’s Falcon series drones, which weigh about 9.5 kg and can carry up to 5.5 kg, are being used for this endeavor. At top speeds of 65 kilometers per hour, these drones can stay in the air for up to 18 minutes regardless of their load.
UPS is competing with other companies to become an FAA-approved drone delivery service first. In 2016, the firm ran two pilot programs. The initial project involved a collaboration with Zipline to build a hospital in Rwanda. The other was a joint effort between Cyphy Works, a drone manufacturer, and us.
Medical samples were sent to a hospital in North Carolina earlier this year because to a partnership between the company and another drone manufacturer, Matternet. This strongly suggests that the corporation is committed to implementing drone-based deliveries.
Domino’s is gearing up to speed up the delivery of your favorite pizza. In New Zealand, the pizza chain is working with Flirtey to deliver pizzas by drone. Only a small number of current clients have access to this service. However, efforts are underway at both firms to expand drone delivery to more geographic areas.
There are benefits and drawbacks to these futuristic automobiles. Therefore, let us hastily have a peek.
Advantages of Drone Delivery
1. Faster delivery – The requirement of faster delivery services has gotten drone delivery into action. Current services like Prime Air, Goggle Wing, Zipline have already showcased their capabilities with insanely fast deliveries.
2. Reduced road congestion – Drone delivery will certainly benefit with heavy road congestions, cutting down the distance travelled by delivery vehicles.
3. Improved safety – Reduced vehicles on the road will help prevent accidents, saving lives.
4. Reduced greenhouse gas emissions – Drone delivery would help to reduce emission of greenhouse gases as they are completely electric in nature, except a few hybrid drones (fuel & electric)
Disadvantages of Drone Delivery
1. Limited package weight – The drones currently used for delivery purposes are not capable of carrying heavy loads.
2. Flight times – Drones run on batteries and their flight time is hugely dependent on these batteries. It is worth noting, that the flight time reduces with increasing loads.
3. Collision issues – Drones these days are equipped with excellent sensors, but might be an issue considering future prospects as drone delivery will increase in coming days.
4. Drop locations – These drones as usually autonomous and are dependent on GPS for navigation. These might face issues in densely populated areas.
5. Privacy Breach – Delivery drones have cameras and they constantly record footage and not everyone around will be comfortable with it.
Are Drones really the future of shipping industry?
Truthfully, there is no simple solution to this, and countless online arguments center on this very topic. Drone deliveries are all the rage these days, and major corporations in the internet and retail industries are eager to adopt the new method of shipment. However, the day will come when drones deliver packages without a hitch. Delivery drones face significant challenges that must be overcome, including legal restrictions on flight, flight time, sense and avoid technologies, and the weight of packages.
From an economic standpoint, it’s important for drones to do as many deliveries as they can in as little time as feasible. Clearly, the current generation of delivery drones is not up to the task of making a large number of deliveries. When compared to a delivery truck, which can only carry a few packages at a time, these are clearly superior to drones.
There are many hurdles that must be jumped over before drone delivery can become commonplace. However, no one can dispute that it is the inevitable future of the shipping sector.