Year 2030: Imagine you are on your way for an important meeting, and it starts raining as you reach your destination. Suddenly, the drone hovers around with a new umbrella..you take it with a smile and thank Amazon/Flipkart. You gaze straight into the drone camera and the payment is deducted from your wallet. This is AI, GPS, IoT, Big Data and analytics et al, all coming together. Of course, a normal vehicle (EV or otherwise) could not have reached you in time (your delivery expectation is NOW, unlike the long 10 minutes delivery window that you happily accepted in 2022).
Back to 2022: Our PM inaugurated India’s biggest drone festival- Bharat Drone Mahotsav in May’22. To foster the growth of drone, the number of regulatory forms have been reduced from 25 to 5, a lucrative Rs. 120 crores PLI scheme has been announced, and 23 RPTO (remote pilot training organizations) are being set-up. “Soon, we will have a smart phone in each hand and a drone servicing each farmland.”
It is also important to acknowledge the employment opportunities drone technology brings in the form of remote pilots, UAV engineers, designers and more. There is cheer and joy when drones did a synchronised sound-n-light show in Beating Retreat ceremony.
Areas where the drone shone
Drones have found remarkable use cases in defence forces (surveillance and combat), logistics and private applications (videography).
A] Drone application in agricultural application:
- Aerial survey of farmland helping government agencies in land ownership mapping. This has been critical part of Swamitva Scheme.
- Spraying fertilizers and pesticides in appropriate quantity on correct parts of the farmland. This will help reduce the consumption of the chemicals while getting desired results. Added benefit is lesser chemicals in our food-chain.
Glad to share that Rajasthan state agriculture department recently used drones for chemicals spraying to fight the menace of Locusts.
B] Drone in Logistics and manufacturing:
While drones find application and commercial use in various industries, there are remarkable use cases in logistics sector.
- Surveillance: Security of various projects, factory premises and warehouse: Drone can be our flying watchman that moves around the premises relaying real time digital information.
- Access to remote locations: Drone has an ability to go to places where there are no roads, like hills, deserts, and areas under flood. In times of emergency, drones can well be deployed to deliver life-saving medicines and vaccinations to such remote locations.
- Urgent deliveries: Drone has an advantage of speed (no aerial traffic jam, as of now): Speedy critical spare part delivery to factory/ project sites would help reduce production down-time.
- Impact on evolution of warehousing: While drone caters to the promise of ‘same-hour delivery’, it will push archaic depots (that have little digitalisation & automation) out of business. Adoption of faster last mile deliveries will push for automation within warehouse operations. This will be accompanied by faster growth in grade-A warehouse infrastructure.
- Large warehouses with redefined roles & layouts are coming up. These changes are in alignment with the changing customer/ business environment (e-commerce, e B2B, shorter delivery lead times, higher customisation). Drones play an important role within these big-box warehouses. Some activities that drones can efficiently do: i) Pallet scanning, ii) search for misplaced inventory, iii) inventory audit and, iv) security surveillance of such large facilities.
- Reverse logistics: This movement (both in E-com and Traditional trade channels) is of small quantity and from many diverse pick-up points. Further, the collection is currently done at a high freight cost using standard dedicated vehicles and/or courier. Drones can bring speed and audit compliance at a much lower cost.
Drone in EV zone
Environmental sustainability is high on our priority list. Drones are battery operated and thereby align with the common goal of reducing carbon footprint. This leads us to a simple comparison with Electric vehicles (EVs).
Currently, we have EVs that give a single charge travel range of up to 250km. These can carry many parcels and the driver can make multiple customer deliveries in each shipment. The drone, however, can take only one package at a time and that too a maximum approx. 2kg.
Drone might be appropriate choice when final customers are spread sparsely or located remotely and sending a truck (even after route-optimisation) would be more expensive. Drone will also be first choice to make urgent deliveries as they have speed advantage.
Drone does not compete with EV; they will co-exit and grow together towards large scale adoption.
Moan and groan of drone
Both drone and EV have a high dependence on the speed of innovation in battery technology. Lighter batteries with higher energy density will help travel longer distances and carry more load. With the current battery technology and drone design engineering, approx. 85% of gross weight is battery weight, leaving only 15% for cargo.
To solve for this challenge, hybrid drones are being explored. These will use electric power to take-off vertically and thereafter use standard fuel to move horizontally.
Traffic Signal shown to drone
I foresee large scale adoption of drone much before autonomous cars (on road/ air). Drones will be subject to traffic rules too. These would include fly height, fly speed, number of drones per remote pilot, no-fly zones, landing infrastructure specifications etc. These rules will be formulated and implemented with relative ease, as the monitoring and control will be done electronically. DGCA has already started work on this.
Insurance companies would need to work through the scenarios and appropriate cover that could be offered to owner, third party and shipper. Lastly, last week, I got annoyed when a delivery boy inadvertently rang my bell while the parcel was for my neighbour. I only wonder what my reaction would be when I hear an in-transit (read stray) drone hovering outside my bedroom window.
Privacy would indeed be a key area of concern…calling for some serious regulations here.
This article by Shammi Dua, Vice-President, Kearney originally appeared in the SCM Spotlight segment for the July 2022 issue of Logistics Insider magazine. All views expressed in the article are his own and do not represent those of any entity he was, is or will be associated with.