For many years now, there have been rumours about the use of aerial drones to deliver packages for online retailers like Amazon or courier companies. While some of these turned out to be April Fools pranks, others are bona fide technologies being worked on by various companies – but how realistic is this? Let’s look at the logistical realities of delivery by drone.

How delivery drones work

So how would a delivery drone system actually work? Well, the idea is already used across the world in various places. For example, UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) are used in remote areas to deliver medical supplies. In an eCommerce context, delivery drones would be used to deliver orders directly to customers. So, for example, the shopper would place their order, then, at the local distribution centre, a drone would be loaded with this order, which would then fly to the shopper’s home using GPS or 5G cellular technology.

The challenge of airspace regulation

While the idea of having a drone deliver an order you placed just a few minutes ago sounds wonderfully convenient, there are some challenges for the system to overcome. The primary challenge for autonomous drones is airspace regulation. In almost all countries, airspace is tightly controlled and monitored, and for good reason – a collision between a delivery drone and an aircraft could be disastrous. Add to this the fact that these drones are autonomous, and regulation becomes a clear problem.

Limitations of delivery drone technology

Beyond the regulatory problems, a logistic drone system also has other limitations, including both weight capacity and flight time. Drones are powered with onboard batteries which have a limited range (and their trips will always be two-way). Beyond this, the weight of the actual packages will increase the burden on the power systems, making the drone slower and limiting its range further. Finally, let’s not forget that delivery drones could be very easily stolen, as they have no physical failsafe to prevent someone from just picking them up and taking them.

So, is the world ready for a drone revolution? Perhaps not just yet. But it’s clear the technology is well on its way, so watch this space!

Photo: Drone Delivery by licensed under Creative Commons 4.0