Could drones change the shipping industry?

Peter Tulisaari

By Peter Tulisaari Director of Business Development at King Solutions

Though it started as an online bookstore, Amazon has grown into an e-commerce juggernaut, arguably the most important online store there is today. From warehousing to shipping, when Amazon does something, the logistics industry pays close attention.

So a year and a half ago, when Amazon unveiled their Amazon Air concept, everyone went crazy. Some hailed it as the future of shipping. Others created lists of thousands of reasons why it would never work.

In cased you missed it, Amazon Air is a future planned program that will involve drones picking up packages from a warehouse and delivering them to a person’s door-step.

This could result in a 30 minute delivery window for certain products in quite a few areas. It would also significantly decrease Amazon’s shipping costs. And Amazon’s CEO has said that 86% of their deliveries could be carried by drone.

That said, Amazon’s dream of air delivery service might still be years away. Though many have written it off as science fiction, the truth is, sooner or later, drones will play a part in shipping and logistics.

But what exactly does that look like?

A New Definition of Air Mail
The dream of Amazon: a package is ordered online. A worker is notified at the warehouse. The worker finds the item, puts a label on it, places it in a shipping box, and sends it down a conveyor belt. At the end of the belt is a drone.

When the package reaches the end of the belt, the drone latches on to it and flies off to the address.

It sounds crazy, but the technology to do this already exists. There are just a few things standing in the way of it happening. Well, a lot of things actually.

A Lot of What-Ifs and a Lot of Red Tape
In regards to automated drones or even man-controlled drones, there are many variables that come in to play. For example:

  • Weather (wind, rain, lightning)
  • Birds
  • Lost signals
  • Secure airspace
  • Hackers/Thieves
  • Meteor Showers
  • Etc.

It leads to a lot of what-if scenarios that you don’t have to worry about with the traditional truck/van delivery system. In addition, if drones are going to be piloted (which they’d certainly have to be for a while), that’s a lot of manpower to control the different drones. And these people would have to be certified to fly drones, of course.

Then there’s the legal side of things. Drone flying is severely restricted at the present time. In fact, commercial use of drones as a whole is still illegal in the US. Amazon has been lobbying to change these regulations, and just two months ago, they were given permission to begin prototype testing in the US.

In the meantime, they had been performing some secret tests in Canada. Though they’re cleared for testing in the US, speed and altitude are restricted, and the drones must remain in the line of site of the pilots.

Of course, Amazon isn’t the only one looking into drone delivery. Google is testing citywide drone delivery under the codename “Project Wing”. They are currently carrying out their tests in Australia.

With Google and Amazon in the mix, it’s safe to assume other big players are looking into drone delivery, even if they haven’t spoken about it publicly.

Is This the Future of Logistics?
Will there come a day where automated drones are picking up packages and delivering them to different address across cities? If Amazon has anything to say about it, the answer is yes.

But considering we still haven’t heard or seen much since the drone buzz first began a year and a half ago, it may have a ways to go. Even as it gets closer to becoming a realty, there will certainly be public pushback and concerns as there is with most technological advancements of this kind.

And when/if that subsides and drones start making their deliveries, it’ll only be short deliveries at first. Long story short, it appears it will be quite some time before truck drivers need to worry about their hauls being taken over by drones.

Then again, technology keeps advancing faster every year.

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