The use of Drones in the Last Mile
Currently there are several companies providing urban air delivery services with drones around the world
DRONE is not an acronym. It is a word from the English language that means “BRONZE”. The nickname is probably derived from the hum the machine makes in mid-flight. But the equipment is also called UAV ( Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) or UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle), in Portuguese. Remotely manipulated vehicles are nothing new. Who never saw a remote control car when they were a kid, even on TV? The principle is the same, only in a much more sophisticated way. Radio signals control the machine over long distances. UAVs became famous after their military use in conflicts. It all started in World War II, with the German V1 and V2 bombs. In the 1960s, the US Navy began testing these machines, but it was only in 1977 that Israeli Abe Karem created equipment similar to the one we have today. For civilians, the UAV came later and proved useful in producing aerial imagery. Photographers, videographers, rural producers and surveyors, for example, have used drones a lot in their activities.
According to an article written by journalist Cristina De Luca and published on the website Negócios Disruptivos , “ in November 2020, a six-propeller drone transported a 3-kilogram load from a helipad to a large cargo ship anchored 5 kilometers from Porto. from Singapore, becoming the first vehicle in the world to make an overnight offshore delivery. F-drones, the startup behind the feat, designs drones for autonomous delivery of payloads of up to 100 kg over distances of up to 100 km, for ships and platforms.” Note the numbers: 100 KILOS at distances of up to 100 KILOMETERS! It changes everything. But these numbers are not yet being practiced in the market.
There are currently several companies providing urban air delivery services around the world, such as Amazon Air , UPS Flight Forward , Fehr & Peers , Zipline , Drone Express , Drone Delivery Canada , Valqari and Flytrex . But today the flights depart from distribution centers and have a maximum distance of 30 kilometers.
In Brazil there are also providers of urban air services for unmanned flights. This is the case of Speedbird Aero , which has been carrying out tests for iFood on a 400-meter route from Shopping Iguatemi, in the city of Campinas (SP). The ride on the ground takes 12 minutes. But by air that time drops to just 2 minutes. Drones take customer orders to a meeting point with couriers, who end the trip in a conventional way (motorcycle, bicycle, scooter). Felipe Martins, innovation director at iFood, says that “ of the thousand cities in which we operate, we identified that at least 200 have similar characteristics to this test area in Campinas where we could take the solution.” iFood, in partnership withMcDonalds and Madero , is also testing Speedbird Aero services in Aracaju (SE). Orders will leave Shopping Rio Mar and fly over the Sergipe River to the neighboring municipality of Barra dos Coqueiros. By land, the journey takes up to 55 minutes. By air, the drone only takes 5 minutes and 20 seconds. According to the website canaltech.com.br, “ the mission of the drone is to reduce the travel time in the first part of the delivery. Therefore, they go to a droneport and distribute from there. The equipment (by Speedbird ) is 1.50 m high and 1.20 m wide, equipped with six engines and two GPS units, works with 4G technology and can fly at a speed of 32 km/h.”
And why use the drone precisely in the last mile, which in Portuguese means last mile? Well, the Ilos Institute claims that the last mile accounts for approximately 24% of logistical costs. When we talk about online commerce, that number rises to 45%. The idea is, finally, to reduce costs. Decrease last mile expensesmeans making shipping cheaper for the final consumer, increasing sales in a second moment. I argue that, combined with the agility of the modal in urban environments and other areas of difficult access, it generates a great deal of movement in the business world. Some investors believe last-mile drone use could create a $30 billion market by 2028. That’s a lot of money. And is it really worth betting on this technology? According to the company Futurecom Digital, the use of this equipment brings the following advantages:
- Reduction in product delivery time to the customer — travel time on some stretches can be up to 90% shorter. There is no way to compare with land transport in urban settings.
- Cheaper deliveries—UPS alone, which has considered installing mini-helipads on top of its trucks, expects to save $50 million by shaving just one mile off the daily routes of its 66,000 drivers.
- Reduced damage to the environment — The average delivery of a package per truck generates about 1 kg of greenhouse gas emissions. The drone does not have this problem.
- Existing Technology — Powerful load and distance equipment is already available on the market.
- Greater efficiency to the process as a whole — remembering that drones do not replace other modes, but serve as a complement.
But there are also many challenges. Do you remember that the English word drone means drone, because of the buzzing sound it makes? Imagine thousands of “drones” flying simultaneously in the skies over your city 24 hours a day. The noise would be the same as a giant hornet’s nest. Also, who would control this air traffic? César Taurion, in an article published by Neofeed, makes the following analysis: only in the United States, FedEx, Amazon Prime and UPS deliver 10 billion packages a year. If 10% of these deliveries were carried out by drones, which normally travel with only one package at a time, we would have a billion flights a year. 2.7 million flights a day! Even if only 1% of the total volume of packages were transported by unmanned aerial vehicles, we would still have 270,000 flights a day! That’s only in the United States! There’s more: who will pilot these machines? How much will the preparatory course (obviously necessary) and certification cost? Are the devices really ready to fly in any weather? Have you ever thought if two drones, each carrying 30 kilos of goods, collided in mid-flight, 100 meters high? When they hit the ground, what damage will it do? Can anyone die? Of course. That’s why,