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Drone Delivery – What Every Post Should Know

In this blog post, we discuss drone applications for Posts, the benefits they bring to postal operations, and the pieces of the drone puzzle that have yet to be solved.

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Drone Delivery – What Every Post Should Know

To the layman, drones seem like something out of a movie – hovering over populated areas and dropping pizzas or even puppies out of the sky! But over the past few years, drones have become less of a fantasy and more of a reality. Today, drones already contribute positively to wildlife conservation, emergency rescue, and military operation efforts. Consumers can even buy small commercial drones to fly around for fun.

And as drone functionality becomes more advanced, it can be applied to a greater number of industries, including Posts. In fact, drones are a prime candidate for solving a complex, expensive, inefficient problem: last-mile delivery. In this piece, we examine how drones are starting to surface in the postal industry as potentially viable option, the benefits they bring to postal operations, and the pieces of the drone puzzle that have yet to be solved.

Drones in the context of Posts

Drones have been on Posts’ radar for a while now and for good reason – they are able to deliver where no person can. The USPS is using drones for delivery routes around water, hilly terrain, or unpaved streets. Similarly, La Poste has been using drones to make deliveries to remote Alpine villages. Not only are these towns tough to get to, they are also especially treacherous in the winter. Driving on icy, snowy roads puts postal workers in danger, and makes it less likely deliveries will make it to their destination on time.

The Swiss Post is no stranger to drones either, testing drones for delivery since 2015. Since then, they’ve transported mail, parcels, emergency relief supplies, and even high-priority lab samples. And these countries aren’t the only ones interested in drones—Canada, China, Indonesia, Japan, and Rwanda have all been experimenting for the past few years.

Benefits to Posts

Besides accessing remote places safely, there are several other prospective benefits to using drones for Posts such as:

  • Data for the future – Data gathering is also another great benefit as a byproduct of using drones for delivery. For example, current drone flight plans can assist regulatory agencies in planning and monitoring drone flight patterns and routes to avoid costly crashes into other drones or even buildings and power lines. USPS also plans to utilize unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to gather sensor and geospatial data for autonomous vehicles. Other companies are exploring drones as methods of distributing groceries, prescriptions, hot meals, and other lightweight goods.

Uncertainty around drones

Just like any new technology, drones have their limitations. Below, we explore a few of those constraints and what it might take to overcome them.

  • Cost – Drone technology is still relatively new. As a result, a fleet of drones capable of parcel delivery is currently quite expensive. That said, the costs will start to decrease depending on volume and improvements to drone design. Right now, experts estimate the cost per delivery by drone to be $0.88, but that’s assuming packages weigh less than five pounds and the delivery is within 10 miles of a warehouse.

 

  • Sustainability – Yes, you read that right—drones might be good or bad for the environment. There’s a lot of conflicting literature about the sustainability of drones and the emissions impact they might have in the coming years. While small drones usually have less environmental impact than typical delivery vehicles, drone batteries need to be charged, and that power source has to come from somewhere. For drones to be truly green, they must plug into clean power sources, which aren’t available everywhere. In addition, drones can’t yet navigate as far as trucks can, even when fully charged. This translates to a need for more warehouses, which each have a need for HVAC and lighting systems that contribute to overall emissions.

 

 

  • Regulations – As already discussed, there need to be some guidelines around drone privacy and sustainability. But even before that, countries need to develop policies around how drones can operate in the sky. Like planes, drones cause noise and other disruptions, and regulations can help avoid detrimental crashes and set the stage for updated legislation as the drone market grows. Aviation governmental bodies need to figure out how to register drones, give remote drone operators pilot licenses, how to deal with drone traffic, and determine when drones can fly given certain weather conditions.

The future is near, but isn’t yet here

It’s no surprise that Posts are investigating the feasibility of drones for parcel delivery, but it’s important to keep in mind that there are many unknowns. In the meantime, pick-up-drop-off solutions (PUDO), remain the best, most secure method of delivery. With PUDO, third-party retailers can offer your Post’s goods and services, increasing Posts’ sales and reach in a very cost-effective way. Customers can pick up and drop off parcels at their leisure, reducing the need for extra deliveries and giving the consumer more flexibility. Learn more about how to implement PUDO solutions here.

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