The Transformative Impact of Drones and Automated Technologies on Logistics

Published on: May 2, 2024

Today, we live in an on-demand society where consumers expect their goods to arrive more rapidly than ever. This shift in customer expectations has led businesses to rethink their logistics and delivery methods — with top retailers like Walmart and Amazon going so far as to implement the world’s first aerial delivery systems.

It’s no secret that the role of automation in logistics has come a long way in recent years, especially with the advent of autonomous delivery vehicles and similar innovations. But how exactly are these innovations reshaping the landscape of logistics, and what challenges or considerations might lie ahead?

The Current State of Automated Logistics

There’s no denying that the niche of automated logistics has grown substantially over the past few years, especially as AI in logistics and other global logistics trends have emerged.

Technological Advances in Logistics

Specifically, there have been a handful of technological advances in the field that have made all the difference when it comes to making aerial delivery systems possible. Some examples include:

  • Improved battery technology, which allows drones to travel farther and longer without needing to stop and recharge.
  • Sensor integration, such as thermal cameras and other sensors to help provide better positioning and more accurate deliveries.
  • AI and automation technologies, which can be used to help drones detect and navigate around obstacles while calculating the most direct route to a delivery location.

The Role of Drones in Modern Delivery Systems

Today, several e-commerce businesses, including Walmart, Amazon and UPS, are already using drone delivery to get goods and products to consumers faster. Of course, this relatively novel delivery method requires some additional support and resources in the form of data analytics, intelligent operations, supply chain management operations and the like to optimize efficiency and cost effectiveness.

Benefits of Drones and Automated Logistics

There are many potential benefits of businesses using drones as part of their automated logistics plans. These advantages extend not just to businesses themselves, but to the end consumer as well.

Efficiency and Speed

Perhaps one of the biggest draws of using drones and AI in logistics is the potential to drastically increase efficiency and overall speed of deliveries. Because drones don’t have to navigate through crowded and congested roads, these vehicles can take the most direct route from point A to point B without getting stuck in traffic jams or being otherwise delayed. This results in faster and more efficient deliveries without sacrificing accuracy in the process.

Unlike with larger delivery trucks, which often need to be filled to maximize efficiency, drones can deliver small amounts of parcels at one time. This means that packages can be shipped out more frequently and efficiently, rather than having to wait for an entire truckload to fill up.

Cost Reduction

For many businesses, implementing drone delivery services will result in a long-term reduction in shipping and delivery costs. While it’s true that this will require an up-front investment, this is one that can pay off many times over in the long run.

Traditional delivery is not only expensive due to fleet maintenance and fuel costs, but also because of the need to pay delivery drivers and other operational employees. By switching to drone deliveries, businesses can cut down drastically on delivery costs while also reducing dependence on fuel. At the same time, drone delivery requires less manual labor, which can contribute to more savings for businesses without sacrificing reliability or quality of delivery.

Accessibility and Reach

Drone delivery services can also importantly expand access to remote and rural areas where traditional delivery is often scarce or unavailable. This is particularly true in areas with minimal road access or challenging climates that affect road conditions throughout the year.

Drones, on the other hand, can easily access these areas to provide reliable and timely deliveries while potentially driving down costs of living and improving overall accessibility.

Environmental Impact

Finally, businesses should consider the ways in which drone delivery services can be more environmentally sustainable than traditional delivery trucks and other means. Because drones are powered by batteries instead of fossil fuels, this can cut down drastically on emissions. In fact, according to research by the World Economic Forum, drones can reduce energy use by up to 94 percent when compared to other vehicles.

Challenges and Limitations

Despite the promising benefits that drone technology promises to bring to the world of logistics, there are some major challenges and obstacles that will need to be overcome before aerial delivery systems can become a widespread service available to the average consumer.

Regulatory Hurdles

First, there are a few legislative and regulatory issues currently prohibiting the use of drone delivery services across many areas of the United States. For example, strict drone flight regulations prevent drones from flying higher than 400 feet in most areas.

To make drone delivery widely available, these regulations would need a major overhaul. This is not an easy feat.

Technical Limitations

In addition to drone flight regulations, there are also limitations on the capabilities of drone technology. While drones have come a long way in terms of how much weight they can carry and how long they can fly for, there is still need for improvement. To keep up with demand, drone payload capacity and other technical aspects of their design must improve on a universal scale.

Security and Privacy Concerns

Finally, there is always concern when it comes to the overall security of drone delivery. Consumers have spoken out about their concerns regarding drone abuse, package theft and other damage to delivery drone equipment that may occur. This, and the fact that some consumers are hesitant to rely on drone technology for their deliveries, could make for a long road to public acceptance of this delivery method.

The Future of Drones and Automated Logistics

So, what exactly does the future of logistics look like when it comes to drones and automation? While nobody can predict the future, there are a few trends that we can expect to see based on previous findings.

Innovations on the Horizon

There are many possible innovations that we could see hit the drone and automated logistics fields in the coming years. This starts with drones that have an increased payload capacity. This will make it possible for drones to carry larger and heavier packages, which could expand access of these services beyond smaller parcels.

In addition to technical advancements, we may also begin to see the use of so-called ‘drone swarms.’ These rely on multiple drones collaborating to deliver packages as seamlessly and efficiently as possible in urban communities and other populated areas.

The Role of AI and Machine Learning

These days, you’d be hard-pressed to find a single industry that hasn’t been affected in some way by artificial intelligence and machine learning. Logistics is no exception here, as it is expected that the global logistics industry will continue using AI and machine learning to streamline operations and efficiency. In the drone delivery realm, this may manifest in the form of AI technology that helps drones avoid collisions and optimize navigation.

Potential Market and Industry Impacts

At the end of the day, the impact of drone delivery on logistics and the global supply chain is expected to be a positive one. In the current state of the global supply chain, accessibility is a key problem driving up the cost of goods and products. With aerial delivery systems and all the technologies that may come along with them, it could be possible to alleviate a lot of supply chain issues currently affecting the economy. Of course, only time will tell what kind of market and industry impacts these advancing technologies may have on other fields.

Interested in a Logistics Career?

As you can see, the future of logistics is looking bright. Much of that is due to the integration of supply chain automation and other innovations in the industry that were not thought possible even a decade ago.

Are you interested in making a difference with a career in logistics? Park University’s bachelor of science and associate of science in management/logistics can help you build the foundational knowledge and skills needed to work in such fields as supply chain management, logistics management and more. Plus, these flexible programs are offered both online and on-campus to suit your needs.

Learn more about Park University’s management and logistics degree programs by requesting information today. Likewise, you can get started by filling out your application.

Park University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Park University is a private, non-profit, institution of higher learning since 1875.