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Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or “drones”) can be used to deliver goods in the first and last mile, as well as for intralogistics and surveillance operations. Though popularized in the media in recent years, UAVs will not replace traditional ground-based transportation. However, they will augment delivery with point-to-point and automated operations.

Key Developments & Implications

The last couple of years have seen the concept of UAVs mature within the logistics industry. On the policy side; the EU, the US, and various other countries have each implemented an assemblage of legal frameworks that grant limited but workable space for commercial UAVs in the public realm. This can include beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) flying permits.

Overall, property surveillance and inspection continue to be the strongest use cases for UAVs today and in the near future. While development is still in progress for intralogistics and last-mile operations as use cases, both have been greatly accelerated during the COVID-19 crisis, with human contact and worker shortages highlighted as concerns.

  • Property surveillance and inspection is being transformed by drones. What would normally require a few hours for a crew of workers to safely inspect a wind turbine or patrol a large industrial facility now requires only a few minutes for a trained individual using a UAV. Overall, tactical drones have since acquired a more diverse range of capabilities with multiple vendors offering products and services for night operations, gas leak detection, wildlife deterrence, perimeter inspection, and more.

  • Intralogistics operations is a field that has proved somewhat challenging to UAVs. Difficult navigation in busy facilities, short battery life, and error-prone inventory scanning and counting under variable lighting have all remained as operational barriers to more widespread adoption. Despite these problems, the potential cost-effective benefits are motivating enough companies to overcome these setbacks.

  • Last-mile delivery service, the most high-profile use case for UAVs, has seen critical development in the past two years. During the COVID-19 crisis, plenty of companies in the private sector has successfully deployed UAVs for last mile delivery.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in Logistics

Although ‘hobby drones’ have become popular with consumers, the adoption of commercial UAVs is still in its early stages. Download this trend report to take a fully grounded look at the role of these devices in our near-future.

Applications That Are Discussed Include:

  • Urban First and Last Mile Delivery
  • Rural Delivery
  • Surveillance of Logistic Infrastructures
  • Use for Intralogistics

Talk to an Expert

Michel Heck

Innovation Manager, Trend Research
DHL Customer Solutions & Innovation

Michel is a passionate Innovation Manager and creative problem solver. In his role, Michel is shaping the overall innovation agenda at DHL through developing industry trend reports and identifying, piloting and commercializing state-of-the art technology solutions for the logistics industry and its customers. Within the Trend Research team, Michel’s work focuses on future application areas of drone technologies within logistics operations and the introduction of upcoming packaging innovations to the business.

Michel joined Deutsche Post DHL Group in 2017 and worked for the global innovation team at the Innovation Centers in Germany and Singapore. Michel studied in France and Germany and holds a Masters degree with a focus on Technology & Innovation Management.

Jordan Toy

Innovation Project Manager
DHL Innovation Center, Troisdorf

Jordan Toy is an Innovation Project Manager. He merges his technical background with his passions for sustainability and human-centered design to drive projects from ideas to real-world pilots within logistics operations. His interests are multifaceted and span from robotics to quantum computing and from green energy to the future of work.

Jordan has over 6 years of experience in the logistics, transportation and civil engineering industries. He is based in the DHL Innovation Center in Troisdorf, Germany.

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