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Collaboration Between Delivery Trucks and Drones : But What’s in the Way of This Future?

Streamlining the delivery process so that both trucks and drones can work together is the obvious way forward for truck rental and shipping services. This will save time and money and get things to customers faster. It also means that drivers won’t need to go into driveways and be a hassle for other vehicles coming in and out, and they can have contactless delivery to the door. Which is something a lot of companies are now working on during the covid-19 pandemic.

There are already multiple companies with the ability to launch delivery drones from their trucks, including Amazon, UPS and Workhorse. But there are some stumbling blocks blocking the path forward for this technology to be in regular use worldwide.

Benefits of Truck – Drone Partnerships:

  • Contactless delivery. This is a big one at the moment, with the public sector and govt calling for it and delivery companies already starting to work on more contactless delivery options during this pandemic and to prepare for any future needs. Having a drone leave the truck to drop a parcel at the door means there is no need for human contact. This then significantly limits the risk of a virus spreading from either the driver or the customer, protecting both. There are two pilot programs currently underway for contactless delivery by Gatik’s autonomous middle mile vans and Wing’s global drone delivery operation, both sound promising.
  • Faster in Rural Areas. The truck not needing to go up a long winding driveway and being able to drone fly across fields, with truck parked at the end of the drive will save time. Some driveways are also hard for a large truck to maneuver in and out of.
  • Avoiding Traffic. When there is traffic stopping a truck from getting into a street, or turning into a driveway from a busy road, the drone can be used. The truck would be able to park in a less busy road or potentially stay in traffic (if truck is autonomous) and direct the drone to the property from an easier location.
  • Driver Ease. Being a delivery driver requires a good level of fitness, as they often have to climb stairs and carry heavy packages down a driveway. With a drone able to carry the parcel to the door, and up steep stairs or to an apartment, it would ease the driver’s burden. This could mean fewer back injuries and strains for drivers too.

What are the Roadblocks?

There are regulatory issues in the way of progress for delivery drones, that the industry has not yet been able to move past, as well as a few other considerations.

  • Federal Aviation Administration Regulations. In the US trucks with drones are not permitted to be used in urban areas. They have allowed for use in areas that are not densely populated (like rural areas) but not within towns and cities. This is a huge barricade in the way of progress, and laws are likely similar in other developed countries as well. Private companies are in talks with the govt in regard to this regulation, and working on ways to work around it until restrictions are lifted.
  • Safety Regulations. They simply don’t exist yet as it is a new technology. There are some regulations around drones, which could prove problematic. However, not really regulations around the use of trucks with drones for delivery purposes. These regulations would need to be agreed on and understood in a collaborative effort between government, local transport agencies and private companies.
  • Privacy Concerns. Some members of the public are not comfortable with a drone flying up to their house, and would like to have the option of a human delivery system. Drones have sadly been used wrongly in the past, in private use. This puts an expectation on companies that they will need to prove privacy is respected.
  • Driver Distraction. For both the truck driver and other drivers on the road nearby a drone flying around close to them is a distraction. This is a safety concern that will need to be addressed. Autonomous trucks which are already in production through Tesla and a few other companies around the world, would help with this. But in order to not distract other drivers regulations would need to be put in place as to where the drones can fly and how high they can go, closeness to vehicles etc.
  • Energy Efficiency. Drones are comparable to diesel trucks, if not worse, as far as energy efficiency goes. They’re not particularly environmentally friendly. This is something that delivery companies will also need to consider and look at reducing, as they have new targets for low or zero emissions to meet.
  • Uncertain Cost Savings. There are multiple trials underway, but it is not yet certain how much money would be saved. It’s more efficient but if it ends up costing more very few companies would want to go ahead with the change. With autonomous trucks there would be clear savings, but they are not yet readily available.

Realistically we are looking at somewhere around a 10 year time frame, before this technology hits majority and mainstream use. There are still some companies using the technology and work being done towards getting it up and running. We expect that we will start to see growth in the use of delivery drones, and the collaboration of trucks and drones from now onwards. The future of drones to the door is definitely on the way.