There are many expectations placed on the transport of goods with drones.
For years there has been talk of specific projects and the possibilities of using UAS in the transport of different types of goods and in different scenarios. Although there are large companies behind some of these projects that, among other contributions, have contributed with investments and funds for their development, the reality is that we are still far from having a real and practical use of this type of transport, except in some cases, isolated product more than an image performance that will compensate the investments made.
Traditional freight transport is not a uniform concept. There are different classifications and types of transport according to, for example, the type of merchandise, the volume to be transported, the distance to be travelled, the urgency, the value of the merchandise, etc.
These different approaches in the transport of goods with traditional modes are repeated if the mode to be used were a UAS.
In other words, it is clear that, without going into deeper considerations, it is not possible to replace the current mode of transport with a drone in all freight transport.
After this first and generic conclusion, it is worth delving a little deeper into the current reality and about the problems that freight transport has today and where the solutions that generalize its use may be.
In the first place, it is necessary to correctly select the market, from among all those that we mentioned, that has the most benefits and best adjusts to the use of UAS. When we say benefits, an imprecise word, we are referring to aspects such as sustainability, profitability and safety.
Sustainability is substituting modes of transportation for systems that are less polluting and more efficient in the use of energy.
Profitability is transporting with lower costs and higher yields.
Safety is applying regulations that guarantee levels of acceptable failures and that produce a social acceptance of this new mode of transport.
And here we come across reality. Although in some cases UAS capable of carrying out operations are already available and there are already specific situations of their use, we must be very selective in which type of transport we put efforts that respond to aspects of sustainability, profitability and safety.
For example, there is much talk about the use of UAS for the transport of small goods in what is called the “last mile“.
Although nobody questions the advantages such as speed, the elimination of road traffic in cities with the improvement of circulation, the reduction of congestion, the use of a non-polluting vehicle, among others, with the use of drones to replace cars, vans or motorcycles for this type of merchandise distribution, we come across the harsh reality of the dubious economic profitability of this replacement with current conditions and the logistical problems of safe and reliable deliveries, in addition to the application of the regulations, in this specific case, EU regulations.
What will facilitate the implementation of UAS for these logistical tasks?
There are several factors, all of them necessary and to some extent complementary. On the one hand, the regulations that make autonomous flights possible that reduce the global and unit costs of this transport. On the other hand, air traffic management systems that adequately manage operations, prioritizing the safety and profitability of the operation. UAS with technology that provides reliability and safe operations. Safe delivery systems adapted to each case that do not discriminate against sectors of society.
All this must advance in harmony and converge together to provide a global solution to this type of transport that produces social acceptance, a basic issue to introduce real advances in transport that are valued positively.