Cities are the heart through which we develop and carry out our daily activity, and they contribute to a greater extent to the world economy, representing more than 80% of the GDP of the world as a whole. Highways, train tracks, and other forms of transportation are the arteries that feed this heart.

When these arteries become clogged or weakened, the results are severe. Companies, residents and cities suffer from it, and the economic costs are high, so much so that losses of 2 to 4% of a city’s GDP can be established, due to loss of time, over-used fuel and the higher induced costs for companies.

In addition to private vehicles and public transportation, commercial vehicles are major contributors to urban pollution and traffic congestion. They are more likely to make stops and block normal circulation. In general, they generate higher emissions of nitrogen oxide and other emissions, and without a doubt the trend is for the use of private and commercial vehicles to increase in the coming years, motivated by economic growth, population growth and the expansion of the electronic commerce.

Today, cities account for 55% of the world’s population and this proportion is expected to increase to 69% in 2050. Cities contribute 70% of global carbon dioxide emissions and these levels will double between now and the next 25 years.

In a closer environment, today there are more than 23 million Spaniards who regularly buy online and the most significant thing is the increase in the use of this type of purchase on a unitary basis. The CO2 emissions emitted by this activity may exceed 25 million tons in 2030. Without forgetting the increase in road accidents due to this activity (a 7% increase in accidents due to the delivery of food at home and almost in the 50% of accidents are involved vans). Proximity logistics induced by online purchases is what we generally known as “last mile” logistics.

In Madrid, for example, 12,800,000 journeys take place every day, of which 20% correspond to the transport of goods.

The measures that are being proposed to reduce the effects of this activity are very diverse, with different degrees of implementation: small and agile warehouses distributed throughout urban centers, networks of delivery points through smart lockers, digital collaborative charging platforms or systems measurement of driving and delivery routes, electrification of fleets, night distribution, etc. For areas of high population density and packages of less than 2 or 3 kilos, which represent a large part of the total, another proposal is the delivery on foot or by bicycle. The question we ask ourselves is, why don’t we use drones?

Business models condition the improvement of the sustainability of the last mile, but trends in consumer habits push these models towards unsustainable consumption proposals. The market is increasingly stressed, it is requested to increase the speed of deliveries, free returns (return rates of 30% are being given), the increase in products to be purchased with deferred deliveries, all generating a great economic impact, social and also environmental that must be remedied.

The World Economic Forum has forecast a 36% increase in the number of delivery vehicles in the world’s top 100 cities by 2030, estimating that emissions will increase by almost a third, an average increase of 21% in traffic congestion, and an increase in average travel times in city centers of 12 minutes for each user.

The calculations that we have at the moment is that, for each delivery of a package through sustainable logistics, there is a saving of 2.32 Kg of CO2.

Madrid wants to achieve a reduction of more than 40% in total greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990. Currently the main source of nitrogen oxide emissions comes from mobility or road traffic, with a 70% of the total.

Although shipments of merchandise from e-commerce do not represent in most cases an extra cost for the consumer, it must be remembered that these shipments are never free from an environmental point of view.

The Paris Agreement signed in December 2015 agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG, 2020-2030). Additionally, the commitments acquired in the context of The Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, the objective is to improve air quality in the city so that it is possible to approach compliance with the concentration guide values defined by the World Organization for Health (WHO) for both nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and for particles (PM10 and PM2.5), however, only the growing number of goods delivery vehicles will increase greenhouse gas emissions by 21% by 2030.

These factors have caused more and more companies in the logistics sector, among others, to be working to reduce gas emissions and seek new formulas that are less polluting and more sustainable for the environment.

On the other hand, delivery times have become one of the greatest demands on the part of customers, they are even willing to pay more for the certainty of having their order in a short period of time. This growing “appetite” for fast delivery, even on the same day, is putting a lot of pressure on the supply chain. Often these deliveries are made with sub-optimal resource management. Most customers are not aware that faster delivery causes more emissions. But there are only two paths, either reduce the last-mile logistics market against the consumer trend or introduce more sustainable delivery methods. Why don’t we talk more insistently about drones?

Sustainable last-mile deliveries could pave the way for greener logistics. Delivering thousands of packages to their final destination every day is a complex logistical challenge. There are many factors that contribute to preventing good efficiency and sustainability in last-mile logistics:

– Average speeds are reduced, this means more time on the road and fewer kilometers per liter of fuel.

– More stops are made, either due to breaks in each delivery or due to traffic congestion, which means more vehicle downtime and idling time.

– Failed deliveries. Up to 5% of last mile deliveries fail, obviously every failed delivery is a waste of resources.

– Routes are becoming longer and more complex due to the large number of individual stops, therefore it is more difficult to plan and optimize routes.

– Returns are another big problem. The collection of packages for their return also contributes enormously to worsening the efficiency and sustainability of deliveries. The average rate of return of products is a whopping 30%.

Some companies have already begun to carry out tests of what the delivery of products through the use of drones would be like. The use of drones is proposed to deliver light products at a short distance (round trip in less than 15 kilometers). It is expected that the use of drones would make it possible to substantially reduce CO2 emissions, although the main problem is that current regulations make it difficult to start up these services.

We all understand the need to transform cities towards more sustainable and habitable places. When solutions for the mobility of cities are exchanged in expert forums, the possibilities of using drones are almost never discussed. The truth is that the evolution of the regulations that make commercial and social use of drones in cities possible, what we know as UAM, is unclear and does not affect the core of the problem. We tend from the institutions to build a regulatory framework consisting of the union of different pieces that in the end present us with the definitive scenario where we can develop. But we do not have a clear image of what is essential: where we want to go and why. What are the symptoms of these reflections? On the one hand, there is no credible calendar for the sector as to when all the regulations will be ready. Secondly, nobody, and I can say it with certainty (in a recent presentation with representatives of the Spanish institutions responsible for the development of U-Space and UAM, nobody spoke or commented on the need to introduce in this whole process as one more factor, the economic profitability of UAM services), you are thinking that after a whole network of standards, regulators, entry barriers, mandatory procedures, certificates and security studies, service providers, local entity rates, etc., there are companies that have to find profitability by offering services that customers can consume and accept their prices.

The last mile is a logistics process with which it is difficult to achieve economies of scale, and although it may represent a small distance, compared to global supply chain logistics, its impact on costs can be proportionally very high. Therefore, the challenge for companies is to make reliable and economic deliveries, and for public administrations it is that supplies are sustainable and with the least possible impact on traffic in cities. These objectives in the end are common to companies and administrations and therefore they must work together to find solutions that are sustainable, economical and respond to social demands. The question we ask ourselves is why procedures are not being streamlined at all levels so that “send me a drone” is an alternative to sustainable mobility of the “last mile” as soon as possible, because, as we say in the title of the blog, in many cases the best solution will be to send a drone: Better, send me a drone!

Pablo Morera

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