3 Key Facts about Drone Delivery and the Future of Supply Chain Efficiency

Published : December 25, 2014

drones-delivering-packagesThe future is here.

The hottest buzzwords in the shipping industry are a ripped straight out of sci-fi. Everyone is talking about drones and drone deliveries, from local newscasters all the way up to Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.

Drone deliveries are supposed to be the wave of the future. Most people can already see it in their mind's eye. They can see themselves as George Jetson, relaxing in their space-age recliners while spidery little flying machines circle overhead, delivering everything from groceries to prescription refills to the latest model of the iPhone.

With drone delivery, supply chain efficiency, it seems, has just hit an all-time high. No one will ever have to wait for a package to be delivered the old-fashioned way again.

It’s an appealing image— one that makes it so easy to get caught up in the hype. But, there are still some very real obstacles to successful drone deliveries, obstacles that will have to be overcome before the average consumer can expect to see a tiny, unmanned helicopter landing on their balcony.

Reality Check

For every news article that comes out about the exciting ways that drones will improve supply chain efficiency, another one appears outlining a new setback for drone technology. The sheer, complex logistics involved in drone deliveries are, for the moment, preventing them from replacing over-the-road fulfillment. Consider these three key issues.

1. The Laws of the Land

As with almost all new technological advances, our legal system is still playing a game of catch up when it comes to the use of drones. As was announced on the November 9 edition of CBS This Morning, concerns over the possibly fatal consequences of an unmanned drone colliding with a commercial aircraft led the National Transportation Safety Board to rule that drones are aircraft. This places them squarely under the jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), giving the federal government broad new powers over how, where and when drones can be used.

Just what restrictions the FAA will impose and how they will impact the commercial use of drones for product delivery has yet to be seen.

2. The Laws of Physics

Even if the legal concerns about drones can be ironed out, there are still physical obstacles in the way. Drone deliveries, it turns out, can be sidelined by some fairly simple things. Something as common as bad weather or high winds, points out Newsweek’s Lauren Walker, can stop the drones in their tracks. According to Walker, as many as 20 percent of drone deliveries would be subject to cancelations due to the weather.

3. The Laws of Economics

According to Robohub’s Colin Lewis, the cost to deliver a shoebox-sized package by unmanned drone would be between $15 and $20. The same package delivered by more traditional means would cost between $2 and $8. There are consumers out there who will pay the higher fees, of course. Some of them simply want what they want right away. Others will pay the higher cost just for the "wow" value of seeing a drone land in their driveway. Until those costs come down, however, most people will probably pick the more economic choice. And businesses— especially those watching their bottom line— most certainly will stick with more traditional shipping methods.

The Future of Drone Delivery

While the everyday reality of drone delivery may yet be a dream, the concept is simply too appealing to ignore. The obstacles that stand in the way of this exciting new component of supply chain efficiency may take some time to overcome, but they will be overcome. And when they are, watch out, George Jetson, the future is here.

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Topics: Supply Chain Technology

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