Do drones really offer a viable freight alternative?

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
7 September 2014

8 September 2014 | Will Green

Will GreenSo the skies could be filled with drones.

Nearly half of logistics firms believe they will be using unmanned aerial vehicles, known as UAVs, to ship cargo, according to a survey. Amazon has already announced it could be using drone deliveries, and of course they are a fundamental part of modern warfare.

In the survey logistics firms say they expect to be using UAVs within 15 years, but the number one concern is the ability of drones to carry sufficient tonnage. This fear would appear to be well placed, given that the drones Amazon has unveiled seem capable of carrying little more than a pair of flip flops.

The National Aeronautical Centre, which carried out the survey, has said the challenge is now to find the investment necessary to make drones commercially viable.

Call me a sceptic, but I’m having trouble picturing how the technology would work in practice. Presumably to transport even a tiny percentage of the tonnage currently carried by ships and manned aircraft would require drones with the power of helicopters. Given the perils already present in manned aircraft and the accident rates of helicopters, this is a scary prospect.

Alternatively, hundreds of thousands of smaller drones could be deployed to make up the tonnage, but the logistics of controlling such a multitude is difficult to comprehend.

And once all the technical challenges have been addressed, there remains the lurking danger of hackers breaking into computer systems and taking control of drones. If you then take this further and consider the potential for a terrorist attack, you’re in the realm of nightmares.


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