If the courier cannot get there, send drones instead

The experiments to deliver parcels using drones have already been conducted for a few years. The road to success has been a bumpy ride, as some spectacular failures show. For example, a Russian postal drone during a test in 2018 crashed straight into a building wall after only a short flight (video here). A drone worth 20,000 dollars was smashed to smithereens. At the same time, Wings, belonging to the giant Google, was able to boast of tens of thousands successful deliveries using drones during the tests conducted in 2017 and 2018.

Before these small, unmanned aerial vehicles take over a significant share of the courier service market, many technical and legal barriers are to be overcome. However, it is in a letter postage where the drones are forecast to be put into widespread use first.

A carrier pigeon with an electric motor

The analogy to pigeons illustrates well the potential possibilities and limitations of postal services with the use of drones. The main advantage of drone usage for delivery is their ability to reach places in difficult terrain – both urban (high buildings, traffic jams, dense urban housing), as well as over open water or marshy areas, or in the mountains or forests.

In 2017, the US giant UPS demonstrated a drone package delivery system. A traditional delivery truck delivered drones to the chosen place, and then kept launching them through the slide-open roof to take flight and drop off specific packages at specific addresses. After promising results in initial tests, the company wanted to show it off for media, which ended with a drone crashing.

Despite this fact, UPS has not stopped testing the use of drones, because the potential savings like the reduction in labor costs, fuel consumption and the purchase and servicing costs of delivery vans will offset R&D expenditure. Find the proof of this in the recent video by UPS talking about their use of specialised drones to provide services to hospitals.

Technological, legal and social barriers of Drone Delivery

Drones have a low weight carrying capacity 

A few kilos or up to a maximum of a dozen or so kilos, is currently the limit of a drone’s capability; although there are prototype devices capable of carrying heavier loads, the cost of their production exclude their widespread commercial use;

Drones have a short flight range

Resulting from a drone’s power supply problem: the best batteries allow for a flight lasting only up to 20-30 minutes, however, some  drone prototypes, which are breaking records, can keep flying up to 2 hours – it’s promising, especially if we remember the size and the weight of the very first mobile phones as compared to nowadays;

Drones suffer from command and control problems 

Precise control of drones enabling their safe usage in a populated urban area is still a big problem to be effectively solved.

There are questionable social norms of the Drone use

Social norms are also an important barrier to drone usage. Widespread drone use requires people to be open to new technologies. After successful trials in Australia, Wings selected Finland, specifically Helsinki, for the next test phase as research indicated this place as the most favorable for postal innovation.

Legal aspects of Drones raise many questions

In addition to technological limitations, numerous legal problems of the usage of drones are to be overcome. They primarily concern issues related to air traffic safety, but also those related to the safe movement of drones in built-up areas, as any failure in a drone engine or command and control device can pose a serious threat to people’s lives and property.

Experts agree that drones are the future of logistics despite many limitations faced in their commercial usage. And the future is coming sooner rather than later.