Future of Unmanned Ariel Vehicles (UAVs) in Logistics

amazon-prime-airRoad, rail, air, and water modes of transportation are used for transporting materials such as raw materials, tools, plant and machinery, spare parts, oils and lubricants from one place to another place. The choice for the transportation mode depends on the types of materials to be transported, distance involved, whether conditions, urgency in delivery and the cost. Air transportation is the costliest mode of transportation but is preferred where money is of secondary importance in comparison to the need of delivering the goods in time and safety of the materials in transit. Big cities are over congested and traffic jams are seen every day. Sometime a life-saving drug may be needed at short notice to save the life of the patient. Air transportation is the most suitable option in such a situation. Air transport is also preferred in cases of light materials or very small packets of mail. Air transport in logistics has become very popular in USA, UK, Europe and other advanced countries. Airplanes used for the transportation of goods and passengers are mostly manned. Logistic industry is looking for innovative methods in aerial transport and is keen to introduce Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), which are pilot less aerial devices. UAVs have been successfully used in military applications. US army has used UAVs in Pakistan and Iraq. DHL has also used for delivery of parcels in Germany. Some of the largest online retailers like Amazon are also testing the supply of materials by UAVs.

Types of UAVs   

The classification of UAVs can be based on size, maximum take-off load, lead distance and price. Technologically they can be classified on the basis of built-up structure and the type of engine used.

UAVs used in civilian applications use electric engines and the internal-combustion (IC) engines. The electric engine driven UAVs have certain advantages as they are environmentally friendly without noise, which is an important consideration in thickly populated areas. The charging of the battery is relatively cheap. One of the limitation of electric engine driven UAVs is their limited range due to capacity of the battery. The load carrying capacity of such UAVs is also affected by the heavy weight of the batteries. UAVs operating on internal combustion (IC) engines have the capacity to cover longer range, which can be strengthened by additional fuel tanks. The development of hybrid system UAVs is yet to come. Electric engine UAVs seems to be more suited to logistics applications.

Application of UAVs in logistics

The application of UAVs in logistics is in infant stage but it has great potential for use in future. They can be very useful for delivery of materials in inner city areas by aerial mode in place of road transportation which is usually choked. They can support small loads easily with the combination of other devices like smart phones and GPS to receive parcels at outdoor delivery destinations. By adopting this strategy, it will be possible to reduce the delivery time substantially. The input of other technology solutions can be integrated to make the delivery network fast and economical. UAVs can be very helpful in transporting essential medicines, blood or even equipment for investigations in emergency. UAVs can be very useful in remotely placed areas of difficult terrain like mountain area or an island due to low-volume and non-standard infrastructure.

UAVs can also be used to keep an eye on the infrastructure like mining area, gas fields or vast area of a warehouse. Tracking of asset, monitoring of risks and intra-logistics as well inter-logistics of supplies between the organizations are other benefits. UAVs help in increasing the delivery speed and customer service levels. They can offer lower cost and help in saving lives of critical patients.

Barriers in enhancing the use of UAVs      

The main barrier in the increased use of UAVs is regulatory issues specially the possibility of crossing the border of the country. There is a need for a law to govern problems of this nature in the sky. Second barrier is the fear in the minds of the people who are concerned about their privacy from the possibility of being watched by the UAVs. The third barrier is the problem of integration of UAVs with the existing networks. In order to encourage the use of UAVs in logistics, it is essential that these barriers are addressed on priority.

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