As customer expectations regarding shipping and delivery times get higher, the performance of manned couriers starts to bottleneck. Instant gratification has become a universal trend, and ecommerce industries that can use drones to ship and deliver their goods fast have a lot to gain.
It seems like old news by now or something like a failed school science project, but the use of drones in the logistics sector is expected to increase the revenue in e-commerce by up to 25% in the next 10 years and save retailers more than $10 million in shipping costs.
And that's just the beginning.
Why haven’t drones been implemented in ecommerce so far?
One of the main reasons drone delivery has been stagnating is current legislation and safety concerns. While Amazon and a few other companies like Alphabet (Google) have received permission from the FAA to test their drone projects with actual delivery packages, there is one caveat to take into account.
Currently, the FAA rules mention that even for commercial drone use, the drone has to stay in line of sight of the operator, so until special exceptions are made for these companies, drones won’t be able to be automatically flown by preprogrammed software.
Another issue is that of privacy and safety, considering these drones will swarm over people’s houses and that adds yet another layer of complexity to the legislation problem.
And as logistical issues go, drones struggle to find more challenging addresses as easily as humans, and dropping a package at your home might end up with broken deliveries and damaged drones.
Solutions to solve these problems would be things like:
- Special drop-off points. These drop off secure points would be placed around the neighborhood, close enough so most people can easily walk to them, but would solve the issue of package security and finding addresses.
- Using hexacopters for motor redundancy. A drone with more than 4 motors means that even if one is to fail, it would still be able to stay in the air and would considerably increase safety.
- AI and obstacle avoidance sensors. By making the routes adapt to aviation emergencies and automatic avoidance of obstacles, we might reach a point where the regulation would change as drone flying safety reaches its peak.
But if these hurdles will be overcome, how exactly are drones going to catch up and change the logistics sector of e-commerce?
1. Shipping within minutes from ordering
While the infrastructure and current regulation have to be revised quite a bit, the use of drones for delivery is a solution that will be implemented at some point because having that new MacBook you were thinking about delivered in under 30 minutes sounds like a sweet, sweet deal.
Companies plan to have delivery places in local areas (for a start) where drones could safely land and drop your item in an enclosure that requires a code to open.
Since the route will ignore traffic and the drones fly straight, the time saved will be tremendous. Even more than that, each drone will have only one mission instead of delivering multiple packages before getting to your location.
There are technical limitations that can be problematic, one of which is battery life. Quadcopters with a long battery life can usually fly for around 30-40 minutes with only a camera payload. However, delivering up to 2kg packages means the only option is to look at powerful heavy lifting drones but will have a flight time of around 20 minutes at most.
One alternative solution is to use VTOL (vertical takeoff drones) that can take off like a quadcopter but fly like a plane to the location, so it can conservatively use its battery.
2. Food delivery by drone
While we have primarily been focusing on Amazon, other fields would benefit even more from ultra-fast shipping.
Food delivery apps are booming, but their workers can be overworked and struggling, according to the NYtimes.
During the pandemic and while people are isolated at home, food drone delivery could become a solution to minimize human interaction and disease spreading.
Delivery on top of apartment buildings in specially designated areas could be a great solution to standard courier shipping. It could also be that novelty factor that would make one company stand out from another.
Domino's pizza wants to use their proprietary drone called the DomiCopter to deliver hot pizza at rush hours without the risk of it getting cold. The devices delivering food would have to be waterproof drones and could even keep food warm.
Of course, we all know that every minute of delay counts when we're hungry, so the first delivery company to adopt this will see a massive surge in popularity.
3. Medication Delivery and the Supplement industry
Long-range fixed-wing drones have been used in delivering HIV medicine in African countries very successfully. It has also been proving very successful in controlling the current COVID outbreak in certain countries.
While most uses so far have been targeted towards humanitarian action and third-world countries, there is talk about using drones to deliver regular doses of prescription medicine.
This could be highly valuable for elderly people with motor impairment or memory loss.
Not only the disease medication industry would benefit from increased sales, but also the nutritional supplement industry. For example, it could become standard for a fitness supplement company to send whey protein samples to people who can't decide what flavor to buy.
4. Clothing and Fast Fashion
More and more people buy their clothes from their home chairs, as online apparel sales accounted for 46.0% of total U.S. apparel sales in 2020.
However, many people never trust buying judging by online pictures or measurements alone.
You never know how well a pair of jeans or shoes actually fit.
Fast drone deliveries would mean you can try the item and even return it for the correct size on the same day... even a few times a day.
In events like weddings, where a terrible accident happened such as the bridesmaid's dress rupturing, you could pay an extra fee and get it replaced in a matter of minutes or hours via drone.
5. The drone industry
We may have missed the obvious, but one of the industries that will benefit the most from this widespread integration of flying technology will be the companies that handle the drones themselves.
There are millions of dollars being invested in drone startups. It might be the case that a large "unicorn company," the likes of Uber, will become the poster boy of drone delivery even before Amazon succeeds in implementing it.
Drone operations require pilots, programmers, and entirely modified supply chains to work correctly. This means lots of jobs created and a huge potential for companies in any of these drone-related fields.