Sunday 24th Sep 2017 - Logistics & Supply Chain

Changing the concept of last mile delivery?

DHL has just completed a three month test of a “Parcelcopter” which automatically delivers and collects parcels from a special pack station. And the UPS Foundation is working on a plan to use drones to deliver vaccines in remote locations. If anyone thought drones were just a fad, here is the evidence that they are starting to make an impact in the real world of logistics.

Malory Davies FCILT, Editor.

Malory Davies FCILT, Editor.

In fact, consultants PwC have just produced a report, Clarity from Above, which calculates that the emerging global market for business services using drones is valued at more that $127 billion (£88 billion).

And it has identified a number industries where drones are likely to be used, including transport, insurance, telecoms, infrastructure, agriculture and media and entertainment.

The applications in transport and logistics are self-evident – though both the DHL and UPS trials take a step beyond the conventional.

DHL reckons that its trial in Bavaria is the first time that a parcel service provider has directly integrated a Parcelcopter into its delivery chain.

Customers could insert their shipments into the Skyport pack station to initiate automated shipment and delivery by the Parcelcopter. A total of 130 loading and offloading cycles were performed.

The UPS Foundation has formed a partnership with Zipline, a California-based robotics company, and Gavi, the vaccine alliance, to explore using drones to transform the way medicines like blood and vaccines are delivered.

According to PwC’s calculations, transport will not be the largest sector for use of drones – at a mere $13 billion, it comes third in the predicted value of drone powered solutions. Top of the list comes infrastructure, at $45.2bn, followed by agriculture, at $32.4bn.

PwC suggests that drones will force the entire transport industry to change its concept of last-mile delivery. That’s a bold claim. The idea of drones buzzing down city streets to make deliveries is, today at least, a safety and security nightmare.

Even so, the speed at which the problems are being addressed means that we can expect to see an increasing number of logistics applications becoming available as the technology matures – and the costs come down.

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