UAVs Implications in Logistics – Part III
UAVs could play a vital role in intralogistics. Consider the automotive industry with its massive production sites, just-in-time processes, and mind-boggling cost of idle production lines: UAVs could support intraplant transport as well as the supplier-to-plant emergency deliveries which are typically performed by helicopter today.
Large-scale mining areas could also profit from the on-site express delivery of items that are crucial to maintaining operations (e.g., delivery of tools, machine parts, and lubricants). UAVs are easy to deploy and can follow pre-defined flight paths, so there is no requirement for specially trained personnel to launch and fly them.
As long as system operations are limited to private premises only, the organization has to deal with minimal regulatory boundaries and privacy concerns (issues that can be so detrimental that they render other use cases unfeasible).
The most significant limitation for intralogistics is probably the payload issue. Smaller, affordable UAVs are still disappointingly expensive, and large unmanned helicopters almost rival their manned counterparts in terms of cost, maintenance, and infrastructure requirements, eliminating their major advantages. Another imaginable intralogistics application is the use of UAVs inside the warehouse environment for more flexible and accessible high-bay storage.
For example, a Fraunhofer IML research project investigates the use of a UAV platform for indoor and outdoor flights. This concept is based on the Internet of Things, focusing on self-organization of machines and interaction among systems.
The sensors allow the system to independently observe and analyze the surrounding environment so that the UAV is able to navigate through a warehouse, find logistical objects and carry out an inventory check. The information collected is also transmitted to third-party systems via intelligent interfaces and services. This allows the direct transfer of selected context-related information.
Conclusion and Outlook
It is clear that substantial challenges lie ahead for UAVs, particularly the regulatory environment, privacy concerns, and integration into existing networks. It is likely to take considerable time and effort to overcome these challenges and, in fact, many branches of the logistics industry may never develop regular use of UAVs at all.
However, this report has indicated specific applications in which UAVs are already succeeding today – applications that increase delivery speed and customer service levels, lower cost and, in some cases, save lives.
From today’s perspective, the two most promising uses in the logistics industry regarding business potential are:
• Urgent express shipments in crowded megacities – improving the delivery speed, network flexibility, and potentially even the environmental record
• Rural deliveries in areas that lack adequate infrastructure (e.g., in Africa) – enabling people in remote locations to be connected to the global trade networks This topic will continue to be of great interest over the next few years, particularly if technological developments and changes in legislation accelerate the dissemination of UAVs.
DHL Trend Research invites you to join this exciting journey to the future. Make sure you keep posted through our publications, visit us at the DHL Innovation Center (where you can see for yourself the DHL Paketkopter), and reach out to discuss your joint UAV project initiatives.