Unmanned vehicles extending their reach

The potential of unmanned vehicles in logistics and warehouse management has been talked up a lot in recent years, but what is the reality?

Ruari McCallion has sent out scouts.

If the stories had turned out to be true and the reality had matched the enthusiasm, our skies by now would have been filled with low-flying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones, ferrying items the ‘last mile’ from mobile transport to consumer.

However, our skies are not buzzing with four-propellered flying machines carrying everything from groceries to Amazon books, auto parts and customised components; they are still most likely to be found in the toys section of a department store than waiting at your door.

That is not to say there have been no developments; rather, that enthusiasm collided with reality and some rethinking was necessary before drones – flying or ground-based – started growing into roles that materials handling operations, logistics and warehouse management could usefully invest in.

Trialling the ‘last mile’

UPS and DHL have been actively considering the use of drones in order to extend the reach of delivery vans. Mercedes-Benz undertook a trial using two vans complemented by drones to carry out deliveries in Zurich, Switzerland, to customers who placed orders on Swiss online shopping platform Siroop. Around 100 flights were made without any issues and more are planned for 2018. However, there is a school of thought that says last mile deliveries may turn out to be less useful than originally predicted.

“There are some test cases of drones being used for last mile, such as the Starship Enterprises project trialled in London to deliver fast food, but there are many issues which make this application impractical,” said Robert Garbett, founder and Chief Executive (CEO) of Drone Major, an online platform that brings together drone suppliers, customers, software developers and other interested parties. “This application seems to have captured the imagination of the media but this really is the least valuable use of drones and, until smart cities are developed to enable drones to easily access every household, will struggle to take hold.”

For full article, go to eurekapub.eu

rise of the drones
If the practical obstacles can be addressed, there is clear scope for drones to boost warehouse efficiency.