Are drone deliveries a good idea?
- The International Trade Administration defines drones, or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), as 'air vehicles and associated equipment that do not carry a human operator, but instead are remotely piloted or fly autonomously.'
- The three most common types of drones are fixed-wing, 'designed to look and work like an airplane,' single rotor, which resembles a helicopter, and multirotor, popularly used for aerial photography and surveillance.
- Although still in development, Amazon Prime Air made the first fully-autonomous air drone delivery on December 7, 2016. In 2020, the company received a 'Part 135 Air Carrier Certificate from the United States Federal Aviation Administration,' which will aid in its mission to 'safely get packages to customers in 30 minutes or less using autonomous aerial vehicles.'
- According to the Federal Aviation Administration, as of January 2022, there are a total of 860,983 drones registered in the US, including 328,670 for commercial purposes.
Drones may have been initially developed for military training use and as instruments of remote warfare, but they may prove instrumental in revolutionizing logistics and transportation in the future.
Irish company Manna is leading the way by making live autonomous drone deliveries in Ireland and targeting other EU countries soon. At 50 miles an hour, their drones have already proven to be speedy and fuel-efficient. Bobby Healy, CEO of Manna, says that 'You name it, we're delivering it. And it arrives perfect, you know, piping hot coffee, foam intact, little design on top of the foam still intact.'
If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us one thing, it's that social distancing saves lives. Delivery drones are, by definition, piloted remotely, making them perfect vehicles to drive a revolution in the logistics space. Drones enable the transport of much-needed medical supplies to far-flung, inaccessible, and remote communities--at a fraction of cost.
And according to strategic business advisory AlphaBeta, a new generation of drone delivery startups could end up reaching 4x more consumers in Australia alone. With the 21st-century challenges of inflation and higher shipping costs a persistent problem, innovative solutions are needed.
Drones also don't contribute to pollution, significantly cutting down CO2 amounts when compared to conventional delivery trucks. In fact, they may end up doing the environmental work of 250,000 trees by reducing emissions.
Additionally, drone deliveries could reduce traffic density accidents on roads involving deliveries and pick-ups.
Given the business, environmental, cultural, and lifestyle benefits, adopting drones for civilian applications is not a matter of why but when. We just need the proper governmental oversight and regulatory controls in place.
Drone deliveries might seem like the perfect alternative to slow modern delivery systems, but unfortunately, they pose more issues than potential solutions.
First of all, it's still entirely illegal to use autonomous drones. It's also illegal to fly a drone 'over a non-participating person or a moving vehicle,' which basically rules out any delivery where you might need to cross a road--which is likely every delivery.
Further, drones can't enter controlled airspace without a special permit. You might think the only controlled airspaces are around airports, but they encompass almost everywhere.
Drones also don't handle hills well, as they often impair flight calibrations. Not to mention, with FAA prescribed airspace height limits, it's very difficult to cross hills without breaking the law.
Obviously, laws can change, but even if every restriction was lifted, there are still many logistical barriers to drone deliveries: drones can't effectively fly in poor weather, people like to shoot down or throw things at drones, and it's easier to spot a drone delivery and steal packages upon landing. Additionally, drones have trouble sensing power lines and may crash into them, taking out power grids and damaging property and themselves.
Drones also need a place to drop off packages, and most homes aren't equipped with one. For this reason, there is a concern that drones may attempt to land in backyards occupied by pets or children and potentially harm them.
Finally, security is also a worry with drone deliveries, as the crafts could be hacked, resulting in potential order theft or physical violence.
There are simply too many impracticalities associated with drone delivery for it to be considered a viable delivery alternative.