While drones were once seen as a niche item with a narrow range of applications, the number of registered drones is expected to rise to 7 million by 2020 in the United States alone. In addition to its recreational uses, drones are also valuable in a number of business contexts, including racing, rescuing, and photography.
One of the most exciting fields in which drones are expected to have a significant effect is delivery, which has been made possible by a number of advancements in drone-related technology.
Android and iOS mobile application development is advancing alongside other technologies to make this a reality. GPS features, for example, along with Bluetooth compatibility and 4K capabilities, have made drones more practical in a delivery setting.
The Early Stages of Delivery Drones
Although companies have barely scratched the surface of this opportunity, there are already prominent examples of drones being tested and used for deliveries. Amazon completed its first test of a delivery drone in the US just last year, and a wider rollout will likely take place in the next few years.
Other major businesses that have begun drone testing include delivery giants such as Walmart, DHL, UPS, Alibaba, and Google. There are a number of factors currently limiting the scope of drone implementation, but it’s clear that these companies and others are interested in the long-term potential.
What Can Drones Offer?
Many supply chain inefficiencies have been addressed by a wide range of technologies. The Internet of Things, for example, is capable of tracking inventory, alerting staff when supplies get low. It can also use sensors to tell when a piece of machinery is due for maintenance, decreasing the likelihood of breakdowns or costly repairs.
However, last-mile delivery remains the most expensive and least efficient aspect of the supply chain, responsible for more than half of total costs. Drones have the potential to reduce the money spent on labor and fuel, automating the last mile and removing the need for employees to make deliveries.
The small size and relatively low weight of drones also makes them much more environmentally friendly than current delivery trucks and other vehicles. Although the potential impact of this change pales in comparison to the 71% of pollution caused by just 100 companies, it is still important for businesses to make these efforts as much as possible.
Obstacles and Challenges
If drones could have such a strong impact on supply chain inefficiencies, why have they not already seen a large-scale implementation? Although it’s impossible to trace this back to a single cause, there are a few factors that have limited their practical applications so far.
First, the increasing market for drones has led to more and more restrictive regulations, especially in the United States. Implementation has also been impeded by public perception surrounding drones as many people are skeptical of their implications, especially regarding privacy and security.
It’s impossible to tell just how effective drones will be in making deliveries more efficient, but it’s already clear that they offer a number of important advantages over more traditional methods. As testing continues and companies begin to consider using them in greater numbers, we may be just a few short years away from drone delivery becoming commonplace.