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Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or ‘drones’ can be used to deliver goods in the first and last mile as well for intralogistics and surveillance operations. UAVs will not replace traditional ground-based transportation. However, they will provide value in operating safely in remote, potentially dangerous-to-access locations.

Key Developments & Implications

Although ‘hobby drones’ have become popular with consumers, the adoption of commercial UAVs is still in its early stages. Within the logistics realm, several commercial tests have been conducted over recent years (e.g., by Amazon, Google, and DHL). However, these tests have not yet proven the return on investment for delivery drones at large scale. In addition, regulations remain a major obstacle to overcome to release delivery drones in public areas. For example, many countries require line of sight between drone and operator. Hence, market analysts expect a much stronger impact of UAVs within the inspection segment and intralogistics operations.

  • Intralogistics operations can be streamlined by using UAVs for intra-plant transport (e.g., carrying parts to the required production facility) and urgent supplier-to-plant spare parts delivery as well as to ferry products from back rooms to the sales floor (e.g., Walmart). UAVs equipped with computer vision technology can be deployed inside warehouses to conduct inventory checks and hence ensure frequent transparency on available stock.

  • Surveillance of infrastructure can be enhanced by using UAVs to, for example, check the condition of industrial buildings and inspect trade lines for damage or the need for maintenance work. Additionally, assets can be monitored for theft prevention at warehouses and yards. This increases not only the efficiency of operations but also the safety of staff conducting this work manually today.

  • Delivery drones have the potential to transform the way goods are delivered to rural areas, as well as within megacities. Last-mile deliveries using drones allow delivery times to be reduced while also relieving traffic congestion in densely populated cities. Rural areas benefit from UAVs as areas with difficult accessibility can receive on-demand shipments by air, even in hazardous conditions. Furthermore, systems need to be developed that prevent drones from being hijacked in transit.

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

Dr. Markus Kückelhaus

Vice President
Innovation & Trend Reserach
DHL Customer Solutions and Innovatio

Markus Kückelhaus is heading the global research and innovation activities of Deutsche Post DHL and is in charge of the DHL flagship Innovation Center near Bonn. He joined DHL in 2012 as Director Trend Research monitoring and leveraging trends with his team that will impact the logistics industry in the future. Previously he worked as a free-lance consultant for DHL, supporting the development of a group wide innovation system and implementing strategies and business models for innovation initiatives.

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