When will commercial drones be used for deliveries in the UK?
Commercial drones are well established in a variety of industries, such as agriculture, emergency services, and construction.
In these industries, drones have revolutionised ways of working – they have allowed for inspection, surveying, search, and mapping much faster than could be done previously.
They are faster, safer, and cheaper than the heavy machinery or large workforce that was once required. Drones may not be an industrial revolution on their own, but their impact is just as incredible.
Yet one use for drones that a person from the 1960s might have expected in 2020 isn’t quite here just yet.
In this article you will learn;
- The fundamentals of drone deliveries
- Benefits of drone deliveries
- Pitfalls of drone deliveries
- Companies working on drone deliveries
- the future of drone deliveries
If you would like to speak in detail to one of our drone experts you can do so here
Delivery by drone
Just as the smart fridge is the classic visual for the world of the Internet of Things (IoT), and virtual headsets were the classic visual for the world of gaming, delivery by drone is the classic example of commercial drones, yet unlike the smart fridge and virtual reality gaming, this use case is not as ubiquitous as you’d have expected it to be.
The simple idea behind drone deliveries is for the likes of Amazon, Curry’s, or even Tesco to be able to deliver products to customers much faster than they offer right now; taking us from next day delivery to next hour delivery. Urgent items could be ordered with at the latest of notices, meaning consumers can get even more of what they want, when they want, while businesses can create new opportunities to offer premium delivery options that generate further income from the premium fees.
Delivery by drone would be possible since a drone is small enough to be based in the warehouse where products are held, it will be connected directly to the e-commerce system to know as soon as an item is purchased, and where to deliver it to, and it can operate itself, only limited by its flight speed and the location it must deliver to.
As such, it would be truly integrated into the system, greatly reducing delays caused by humans reading screens, picking items, and packing them into delivery vehicles that wait for other items to the loaded too.
It is a beautifully simple vision of the future of deliveries, and it is a consumer’s dream. In a world of Amazon Prime, we are so accustomed to receiving products the day after we order them, that we are now looking at ways to get items delivered faster.
Surely drones are the answer? Let us investigate.
Benefits of drone deliveries
The benefits of delivery by drones are clear. As a consumer, I can have items delivered to my location much faster. That is the core benefit, but there are also a few other things consumers would benefit from.
For starters, drone deliveries would be expected to be much more reliable and would remove all human error. No lost parcels, no stolen parcels, no delayed deliveries because the delivery person was sick. Not only will parcels arrive faster, but they will also arrive on time more often.
Introverts will also benefit, with all the human interaction of receiving a parcel removed. You cannot even try small talk with a drone; they just fly away…
There is also a large market for discreet deliveries. The ability to remove a stranger handing you a parcel from the equation is a great benefit for such deliveries, allowing for true discretion.
Of course, the benefits of delivery by drone are not just for the consumer. In fact, the real benefits are for the retail and logistics industries themselves.
This is where the majority of the reasons for drone deliveries come from, in fact, as such benefits can offer money making opportunities, and allow retailers to be seen as leaders ahead of their competition, and allow them to win consumers’ business thanks to their offer of drone deliveries.
Let us explore the benefits to businesses.
First off, a drone delivering parcels means a human is not required to not only deliver, but also pick those parcels. Do not worry though, drones will not be stealing jobs – they will be changing them. While that parcel no longer needs a person to deliver it, the drone itself needs a team of people to build it, program it, service it, and so on. The robotic future is bright.
Secondly, faster delivery is a premium offering that can be charged at premium prices. Need an item in the next 2 hours? That is £20 delivery. Need it faster and live close enough for 10-minute deliveries? You are in luck, but it will cost £40. These higher rates will no doubt cover the cost of research and development, and the drone fleet itself, but the premium pricing will benefit once these capital expenditures are covered.
Lastly, although there are likely further benefits, the ability to offer such fast and reliable delivery options puts a retailer way ahead of its competitors. Whoever cracks drone by delivery will no doubt be the next Amazon. Although, in all likelihood, it will probably be Amazon who cracks it.
Pitfalls of drone deliveries
If it were all so great, then why are your deliveries still being handed to you by an old-fashioned regular human? Well, it is because there are a few hurdles that stand in the way when it comes to delivery by drone.
A major stumbling block is payload. A drone is, of course, limited by weight. Firstly, in terms of the maximum payload it can carry. But even if an item were to fall within that limit, it is simple physics that an item weighing 3 kilograms will create more drag, require more power, and take more time to be delivered than an item weighing 1 kilogram. In fact, that is a very reasonable case, right there, for charging for delivery by drone by weight and size of the item.
Related to this is the carrying capacity of a drone. Deliveries are currently done by van, which is capable of carrying a significantly large number of items, packed in such a way to work just right for the route the driver will take. This itself is an incredible feat of technology, and while a drone is much more advanced and impressive, the drones we are talking about for deliveries are much smaller, and likely carrying one package for one person at a time.
This all means, that for delivery by drone to work, a vast fleet of drones will be required. The warehouse holding the products would need to be extended to allow for the drone fleet, and the upfront capital investment is enough to bring a tear to the Chief Financial Officer’s eye (but have you heard of any cost not to cause that to happen?)
Regulation can also be an issue. Different countries have different laws when it comes to drone aviation, and this can create complexities for companies looking to offer a largely standardised offering in all of the countries it operates in. Take Amazon, for example, it is a global giant that offers a consistent level of service no matter where its customer lives – to open up delivery by drone to just some of its customers could cause plenty of backlash.
Companies driving this future
Upfront cost and complexity of implementation should, of course, not prevent innovation and the opportunity to become the leader in this new space. There are huge benefits to being the company that cracks it – not only by putting your competitors on the back foot, but intellectual property and patents for the way drone deliveries are implanted are all huge revenue opportunities.
One such company that is seeking to find a way to offer delivery by drone is, you guessed it, Amazon. Not only is Amazon the world’s number one e-commerce platform, it also jostles for the position as the world’s most valuable tech company in the world, which also means it jostles for the position of the world’s most valuable company in the world (although, currently, it is listed in fourth position, sorry Jeff Bezos).
In December 2016, Amazon released footage of a real delivery that took place using one of its drones. The delivery was right here in the UK, so the good news is that, when drone deliveries do become a thing, it won’t be something exclusive to the United States.
The service by Amazon is called ‘Prime Air’ and the trailer for the services shows off an incredible ’30 minute delivery’ option when ordering from Amazon. It may sound too good to be true, and for now, it is – the service was intended to launch in 2019, but it is currently still unavailable and there has been no recent word of when it will finally happen.
It is unlikely that cost will be the issue for Amazon – with a value of over $1,000,000,000,000 (that’s one trillion, by the way) the company can afford to invest in both research and development and the upfront costs of their Prime Air fleet. The issue is logistics. As mentioned above, the ability to carry just one parcel at a time, and to be limited or impacted by payload is a challenge, but certainly not one that can’t be overcome.
The future of delivery by drone
The future is not just Amazon’s Prime Air coming to fruition, Google and UPS have also publicly discussed their plans to offer delivery by drone. So, in the future, we will most certainly see commercial drones use to deliver products to consumers. This may start on a small scale, with high value, but small and light weight payloads being delivered by drone as opposed to your order of a four-pack of AA batteries.
Ultimately, we expect delivery by drone to be commonplace, but when this may happen is uncertain. It could be five, ten, or perhaps even fifty years before it is normal. The ability for drones to carry larger payloads, and the speed at which drones can deliver will most certainly play a factor.
Legislation will also play its role, and the complications of different regulations by country will no doubt slow down the drone delivery revolution, but we will, of course, get there one day.
It is likely that drone deliveries will begin as a premium offering, for select items of a certain weight and size, and likely with a premium cost associated. It is expected than vans, trucks, and lorries will still be performing the majority of deliveries, especially when is comes to large, bulky, and heavy items that would present a problem for most drones.
However, in the future the payload capacity of drones will increase, improved battery technology and on-board renewables will also allow for increased speed and flight time, so the weight and size issue should become less and less of a problem as innovation continues.
The short term future is most likely Amazon. Their Prime Air offering was due to launch in the UK in 2019, and so it won’t be long before they finally do offer the option. Those who live near to Amazon warehouses will likely benefit, while those who live in remote areas may find themselves wanting.
For now, we lay in wait, and look forward to the future where commercial drones are put to use in an exciting way that captures the imagination of consumers, and pushes forward the commercial drone industry even further.
If you would like to speak to one of our drone experts about adopting drones into your business, please get in touch here.
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