The Growing Role of Drones in Logistics

Drone flying in blue sky

Self-driving cars, aircraft, and other vehicles have long been the holy grail for many researchers. Today, advancements in technology are making this dream come true. Unmanned vehicles are moving out of the laboratory and into the real world.

The growing role of drones in society has significant implications for the logistics industry. Suppliers are scrambling to find the most effective ways to leverage drone technology, applying it to various modes of transportation in different ways.

Air
Making deliveries directly to homes and businesses by drone is the ultimate goal of many shippers. There are many legal and technical hurdles to overcome before this dream can become a reality on a large scale, but we can transport cargo with pilot-optional aircraft right now. This has the potential to decrease costs while improving safety and speed.

Ocean
There are several ways that drone technology may impact the oceangoing freight industry. The possibilities go far beyond ships that navigate themselves across the ocean—for example, drone tech could be used to load and unload ships at shore, reducing labor costs on all legs of the journey. If these ships are designed to operate on solar power, they may need to come to port only rarely.

Rail
At cruising speed, trains are phenomenally efficient. Unfortunately, they have to stop for loading and unloading. Stopping and starting a 10,000-ton train uses a tremendous amount of energy. The trains of the future could use drone technology to unload some of their cargo without stopping.

Trucking
There is a shortage of qualified commercial truck drivers in the United States. Self-driving trucks can help fill the gap. Not everyone is comfortable with autonomous trucks, but shippers can also apply drone technology to cranes, forklifts, and other vehicles that load and unload trucks in the shipping yard.

No matter what mode a shipper is using, drones have one enormous advantage. Just like the robots in an Amazon fulfillment center, all of the drones in your shipping operation, across every mode of transport, can report their position, ETA, power status, and other information in real time, giving shippers the ability to manage their fleets with unprecedented accuracy.

It’s an exciting time to work in the logistics industry. Advancements in drone technology and other automated systems now have real-world applications affecting every aspect of shipping, from the warehouse floor to the customer’s doorstep. What does the future of logistics look like? It’s difficult to be certain, but drone technology will certainly play a large part.

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