Saturday 10th Dec 2016 - Logistics Manager

Carriers expect to use cargo drones within 15 years

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Over 40 per cent of logistics carriers believe they will use drones for delivering goods in the future, according to a study by the National Aeronautical Centre. And they believe it could happen within the next 15 years.

The figures come just days after Google revealed it is developing a drone delivery system, Project Wing. However, Google’s craft is small compared to the unmanned aerial vehicles envisaged by the NAC which would carry goods in bulk.

The research commissioned by the NAC covers 60 logistics carriers and freight forwarders,. It identifies fuel prices as one of the most important perceived risks facing the logistics industry.

This, combined with predicted strong growth in international freight volumes, means that UAVs might provide cost savings in the long term, as it is anticipated that fuel requirements for UAVs will be lower than for conventional aircraft.

The research also reveals over a third (36 per cent) of freight forwarders believe UAVs, also known as Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs), will be used for the future distribution of cargo.

However, the suRvey also reveals that those involved in the design and manufacture of UAVs will need to demonstrate to the market that in future they will truly be able to carry heavy payloads. The top concern from logistics firms and freight forwarders was that UAVs would not be able to transport sufficient tonnage to replace manned marine and air freight distribution solutions.

  Google’s Project Wing

Work by Google and Amazon on drones has focused on small aircraft capable of delivering a parcel, but this research suggests there is scope for much larger unmanned aircraft capable of carrying substantial loads.

Amazon has also been developing a delivery drone, PrimeAir. CEO Jeff Bezos said in December that octocopters could see packages delivered in half an hour. “With the drones we can carry objects, we think, up to five pounds, which covers 86 per cent of the items that we deliver,” he said.

  Amazon’s octocopter

Google said: “Project Wing is a Google[x] project that is developing a delivery system that uses self-flying vehicles. As part of our research, we built a vehicle and traveled to Queensland, Australia for some test flights. There, we successfully delivered a first aid kit, candy bars, dog treats, and water to a couple of Australian farmers. We’re only just beginning to develop the technology to make a safe delivery system possible, but we think that there’s tremendous potential to transport goods more quickly, safely and efficiently.”

Ray Mann, managing director of West Wales Airport and architect of the NAC, said: “This research shows that there is identified, tangible demand in the marketplace for UAVs capable of facilitating the transport of goods with significant tonnage internationally. The challenge for those involved in the design, manufacture and testing of UAVs is to leverage this demand to help secure the required resource investment to ensure the delivery of commercially viable applications.”