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Benefits of Drones in Logistics

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It’s become more apparent to all of us around the world the importance of the many moving parts that go into transporting goods, supplies, and food.

With the onset of problems occurring in international logistics, shipping lanes have been backed up and prices have skyrocketed.

These factors have brought increased concern to the field of logistics and how to improve efficiency overall.

Unmanned aerial vehicles or drones already play a part in creating a more efficient way of shipping items. The benefits are becoming more obvious to non-drone pilots as well.

This means that we will likely see further involvement of drones in the field of logistics due to their beneficial nature.

In this article, we’ll discuss how unmanned aerial vehicles are serving the logistics industry at current.

Trucker Mobility #

The simplest yet most effective form of drones in logistics is having an aerial view for a trucker while he or she is backing out of a tight position, such as a loading dock or alleyway.

While large semi-trucks and box trucks have wide mirrors and sometimes reverse cameras, there are still blind spots on such large vehicles.

To mitigate the risk, some truckers and trucking companies have turned to using drones as an eye in the sky for their operations.

Having a drone near the back of the truck at a point where a trucker can see features and buildings around the truck’s rear means that the risk of hitting something with the truck is greatly decreased.

You’ll often see drones used for such purposes in places such as warehouses, grocery and food stores, and metropolitan alleyways.

This advantageous use of drones, while simple, saves trucking companies thousands of dollars in damages and takes the stress off truckers.

Along with getting out of tight corners, if a trucker is a Part 107 pilot, they may be able to deploy their drone to get a birds-eye view of the congestion ahead.

If there was a wreck or a high amount of traffic that would cause the trucker to lose time during the day, they could scout out the situation to make a decision on whether or not they should take an exit into the congestion.

Aerial Traffic Studies #

Another use of drones in logistics is aerial traffic studies.

Aerial traffic studies can determine where new construction will occur to alleviate traffic queuing as well as locked lanes.

Since commerce and logistics are so closely tied, many of the uses overlap in each industry.

The first use that comes to mind from aerial traffic studies is establishing areas where congestion occurs.

With an aerial traffic study, the drone sits in a fixed position, either looking at NADIR (straight down) or in a fixed position with an oblique view (looking at an angle).

Knowing when and where congestion occurs allows companies to plan their routes more effectively. The efficiency this brings to trucking companies comes with saving time from trucks picking up items to the time the truck drops off the items.

 A little-known fact about logistics is that legally, truckers can only drive for 11 hours a day.

This law does not discriminate on whether or not they were sitting in traffic, meaning that if they run into congestion and have to sit for two hours, they only have nine hours of true travel that day.

Understanding where congestion takes place and when it will take place alleviates this loss of time.

There is also the safety factor that can be assessed from areas of congestion. If it is not possible to avoid an area where congestion is occurring, then at least a trucker can understand when the congestion will occur.

Knowing this information will allow the trucker to plan their rout per the optimal time, as well as know when to slow down so that no lives are lost.

Logistics has a lot of moving parts, and a trucker is only human. He or she may make mistakes just like anyone else. However, the machine the trucker is controlling is thousands of tons. With the data from an aerial traffic study, this risk of loss of life due to collision is decreased.

Aerial mapping via drone photogrammetry or LiDar is highly beneficial to planning trucking routes.

There are many apps that truckers use that are different from normal GPS location driving apps, such as Apple Maps or Google Maps.

The reason for this difference is that truckers are not able to travel with their semi-trucks in areas where normal vehicles are.

This is because some lanes or roads are too small, the corners that must be turned are too tight, or there are overhangs above the road such as bridges that are too low.

Using a drone, cities can be mapped and modeled. A trucker can then extract measurements from the model, such as which areas, roads, and overpasses are safe to traverse for truckers in their large vehicles.

This helps the field of logistics because, once again, a trucker that makes an error such as hitting a bridge, not being able to cut a corner, or taking out a traffic light can be life-threatening to many, as well as lead to damaged property.

This drone-derived data can often be sold to the apps for truckers to navigate with, and it’s beneficial both for the drone pilots, the navigation app, and the truckers in question.

Package Carriers #

Another way logistics is implementing drones is by bypassing the trucker and using a drone as the carrier of goods, supplies, or food.

This new field of drone-based logistics is changing the game, from the speed of pick-ups and drop-offs to the ability to traverse harsh terrain with ease, and the ability to reach broken-down trucks and vessels in a timely manner.

For most of modern history, trucks, ships, and planes have moved goods from one place to another, but they all have drawbacks as far as preparation time, blockades, and congestion are concerned.

In most cases this is okay, but in some cases such as in lifesaving situations, hospitals needing a plasma resupply cannot depend on a truck carrying blood plasma because the truck may run into red lights or car crashes or simply encounter a drive time that makes saving a life impossible.

A company called Zipline in Rwanda led the charge to use drones to ship medical supplies in a fast and reliable way.

Many of the drones we’ve discussed previously in this article are quadcopters. However, the drones Zipline uses are essentially small, unmanned airplanes.

With their fixed-wing design and high battery lifetime, as well as the large size and light frame of the drone, Zipline can launch one of their drones in a short period of time carrying up to 3.5 pounds of cargo.

The Zipline drone is able to fly from a storage point to a hospital faster than any truck could. The drone drops the donation off via parachute and returns to its home base using an innovative but simple launch and landing method as shown below.

This was extremely effective in Rwanda since the distance from town to town is large.

Zipline was able to save lives on an unprecedented scale never seen before by using this method and was highly beneficial to the logistics industry as well as the medical field.

Now Zipline has brought its innovative solution to the United States and has established Zipline bases in warehouses all around the country.

Strategically placed, the logistics of the organization are based around metropolitan areas with feasible distances away from hospitals and medical providers.

Not only do Zipline drones carry cargo such as blood plasma but other medical supplies as well.

Zipline has recently teamed up with Walmart to test out a new form of shipping products to customers. Amazon is also testing its own interior logistics program using drones to ship items.

It’s no doubt that soon we will see drones playing a larger part in being the actual vessel of shipping items, which will change the world of logistics forever.

Warehouse Logistics #

Warehouses that carry and store large amounts of goods, products, and food can be hard to maintain, and it’s sometimes challenging to find a product that is to be shipped.

Using drones in a warehouse, the supervisor can inspect products high on the shelves without needing to climb a ladder or send a person up on a lift machine.

This alleviates the risk of a fall but also increases the speed of locating an item that needs to be shipped.

Using drones to maintain supply in a warehouse keeps it fully stocked.

Altogether, this is another way drones are benefiting the logistics industry.

Final Thoughts #

With the onset of drones becoming widely available as well as more dependable and smarter, it is likely we will see drones further introduced in more sectors of industry, including the many moving parts of logistics.

Drones increase the efficiency of many shipping agencies as well as decrease the time it takes to get emergency medical supplies from one place to another.

Today’s drones also make sure warehouses are well-stocked and prepared to continue their logistics.

Image Credit: Unmanned Aerial Operations


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