Sunday, February 3, 2013

A Drone Delivers Your Package?

Missy Cummings, Scientist working on Drone
Missy Cummings
Boston Globe
Recently, I watched a fascinating show on Nova entitled:  "Rise of the Drones" and as usual, I never expected to get a logistics thought out of the show however, as usual, one develops.  A key scientist (Missy Cummings, former F/18 fighter pilot and now MIT Scientist) being interviewed for the show had actually said "imagine a drone delivering your FEDEX package...".  Now that got me thinking.

First, I had no idea how far the technology for drones has developed in the last 10 years. What they can do and what they are doing is absolutely amazing.  A scary item is they are readily available with a quick search on Amazon you can find many "drones" for less than $1,000 which can do a lot of things (not the least of which from a privacy concern standpoint is take pictures). Here is one I found which I found especially intriguing for less than $750 and it advertises itself as having everything you need to "start aerial filming".  It is called the DJI Phantom Aerial UAV Drone.

So, what is the implication for logistics?  Well, just like what I have been discussion relative to 3D Printing, there is a chance this could revolutionize air freight delivery in the package space.  Think of these key items:

  • It is easy and cost effective for the package delivery companies to continue doing what they do today for big population centers.
  • The costs increase tremendously for servicing small, less densely populated areas. 
  • They cannot afford the pilots and complex planes just to service a town of 10K and the drivers and trucks are very expensive as well. 
Now, imagine the following scenario:
  • A major population hub is where the large plane from a central sorting site lands. This plane has packages for both truck delivery at the major population center and also packages for all the small little towns that are within a 150 mile radius. 
  • Rather than send linehaul trucks to these small towns (which many have some kind of air strip - there are over 5100 paved runways in the United States), the package company launches 20 drones with packages on board - unmanned and controlled via GPS (One learning from the NOVA show was they are starting to eliminate even the pilot on the ground and go 100% automated GPS flying)
  • A person in the town, local person with a local delivery truck, takes the packages off the drone and sends it back on its way to the central location (perhaps even with returns).
  • This local person does simple pick up and delivery.
While I would have said this is far in the future 2 days ago, now that I have watched this show I am not sure how far it is.  Once again, another technology which not only reduces miles driven, reduces demand for drivers and reduces costs but it actually eliminates many of them completely.  


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