There have been some shake ups in global supply chains during the past decade. The use of data has allowed companies to monitor how deliveries take place, stock levels and the state of global supply chains. Improved technologies have meant that transportation has become more sustainable in addition to multiple safety developments.
Although we talk about these important moves forwards, the reality is that innovation within supply chains has been limited to improvements on existing procedures or small changes to technologies.
This is the point in which the world’s largest online retailer, Amazon, stepped in with drones. The idea behind drones is that small packages can be transported by unmanned flying vehicles, allowing the possibility of 30 minute delivery. Dominos and Google are now trying different types of drone for delivery too.
There are several hurdles to overcome and we have identified the top 5:
The biggest challenge that retailers hoping to utilise this technology have found is that the use of airborne delivery systems requires a significant amount of approval. Not only from boards and engineers, but from aviation authorities across the world. Any aircraft in the world requires flight plans and safety checks before they are allowed to leave the runway, how would this work with unmanned drones?
Rumours are circulating that the FAA in the US is currently looking to push through new legislation to allow drones to at least be tested, but we will need to wait to see if this is something that actually happens across the globe.
Insurance & Costs
With perhaps thousands of dollars worth of merchandise and drones worth tens of thousands flying unmanned hundreds of feet above the ground, insurance is going to be an absolute necessity. The difficulty will be, how do insurance companies insure something that is so untested? The potential damage that could be done by a drone could be in the millions (if causing significant personal injury, for instance).
This means that initially, insurance premiums are likely to be high and the likelihood is that these additional costs will be transferred to customers, making deliveries more expensive and slower to spread as a mainstream method.
One of the most interesting aspects of researching this article was seeing how they work through video. Google, Dominos and Amazon all have videos showing the drones successfully delivering their goods to a happy customer. The other main similarity of the videos is that they are all in rural areas.
At the last count, 80.7% of Americans and 90.1% of the UK population lived in urban areas. Therefore logic would say that the vast majority of deliveries would need to be in an urban environment where potential airborne threats are considerably higher than rural areas. Would an unmanned drone have the capability to manoeuvre over/around buildings in this kind of environment?
One of the major advantages of the current delivery systems that require people delivering parcels is that they can post parcels through postboxes or use human intuition to hide the parcel in a secure location. Drones currently do not allow this and in fact would only be able to drop a parcel in a relatively open area. If somebody lives in a block of flats, this will mean that a parcel could be left unguarded in plain sight.
How will companies get round this issue?
Planes weighing hundreds of tonnes have trouble with wind, rain and snow, what issues will these create for a small drone? As somebody who lives in London, I can safely say that if a drone cannot operate in high winds or rain, the chances of success here are slim.
Would this mean that deliveries can only take place in certain conditions? If so this could be a major issue for it’s spread and could signal that large areas of the world could never have this kind of technology.
There are major obstacles to overcome for drones, but in reality the benefits that they could bring are huge. Creating a readily available 30 minute delivery is something that many would have thought impossible for large multinational companies, but this technology could see it becoming a real possibility.