Drones and the supply chain

By: | Issue #628 | at 12:14 PM | Channel(s): Air Cargo  Transport Intermediaries  

Drones and the supply chain

Kids of all ages get them for Christmas and birthdays. Someone landed one on the White House lawn. The U.S. military uses them for assassination. Whether they are a toy, a political distraction or a conveyance of death, drones, or as they are technically described, “small unmanned aircraft systems”(sUAS), have caught the attention of millions of people. Finding the lair of terrorist leaders and unleashing armed drones is a safer alternative than sending in hundreds of ground troops and less expensive than launching US Air Force or Navy air strikes.
Today, despite all of this activity, business entities involved in sales and distribution of goods in small packages, including critical medical supplies and sample specimens, have been drawn - no pun intended - to drone technology. These enterprises are quickly being added to the list of drone enthusiasts. Companies such as these are attracted by the potential of a less expensive, faster delivery with safer alternatives. Properly applied, drone technology could dramatically change both the parcel business and the warehouse, eventually becoming a tool in servicing the supply chain.

The use of drones for commercial purposes has been a controversial topic. In fact, drones in any form have created controversy. Both advocates and opponents of transportation drones have zeroed in on problems including safety, control and airspace as these become the critical issues. For the transportation industry, the development of drones is no small matter. Drones will ultimately compete with established ground based transportation and as they eventually receive approval, sophistication and adequate size and capacities, they may dominate segments of LTL distribution. In addition, Wal Mart has already been testing drone operations within the warehouse. The initial results have been positive.

The first target for commercial drone use is small package delivery, now a ground based operation emanating from multiple warehouse locations, drones will be programmed to do the same, but from the air. Opponents see the drone potentially causing air space issues but as ground based deliveries continue, their issues of not only time, and traffic congestion, also become a concern. Proponents of the use of commercial drones to relieve this congestion know they can eventually improve upon certain levels of ground-based delivery. To do so, however, they must address technical, regulatory and capacity issues.


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American Journal of Transportation