Let’s explore drone’s capability as the future replacement for despatch mission and the current challenges that drone players need to address as well as to correct public misconceptions about this aerial delivery system.

We all must have heard or read somewhere about a few projects that utilise drone as a delivery platform. As such, Poladrone’s home hub, Cyberjaya, is carefully considering and have taken baby steps to start delivering food around the suburb.

Personally speaking, food delivery is a pretty good idea, considering that it potentially can transport the order in a short time but it shouldn’t be the highlight of UAV delivery process as society can benefit more with essential supplies such as medicines. The ideal example of this is what Zipline is doing in Ghana.

What’s good with UAV shipping is that it will save time for products delivery both on the company’s and customer side. Drone’s capability to take the air route can be advantageous in terms of skipping heavy traffic and travelling the shortest distance ie displacement from the distribution centre to the customer’s location.

And not to forget that by using it this way, drone can reduce the overall reliance on manpower to deliver packages and parcels.

While the idea might seem grand and futuristic, in truth, the setting up process and the operation side of the UAV delivery might not be too beautiful.

Like many other business operations, there are many things/aspects that have to be taken into consideration or reviewed to actually create a working system for delivery by drone can happen.

Let’s explore the inner workings behind setting up the drone delivery system and speaking in realistic terms in the perspective of the system implementation in the local context.

Rules and regulations

One of the biggest challenges for drone operator to set up drone delivery method is actually the local rules and regulations. Civil aviation regulations are actually to maintain the peace and prevent aerial accident and incident from happening.

As delivering packages would only definitely be operating in civil residential area, the more reason for rules and regulations to be tightened and enforced.

Take a look at the general rules in drone operation in Malaysia:

  1. No drone can be operated within 5km of airport, aerodrome or airfield
  2. Do not operate closer than 30m to people, buildings and vehicles
  3. The maximum height for operation in 122 meters above ground level
  4. Operation is prohibited inside sensitive areas such as government buildings

Take a look at the rule number 2, “Do not operate closer than 30m to people, buildings and vehicles”. This rule alone has presented a headache for drone operators that wishes to implement drone delivery services.

Amazon, for example, had long planned to execute aerial delivery system but their hands were tied down by the regulation. Recently, Amazon has requested America’s aviation authority, FAA to loosen up the regulations for them to start UAV shipping.

Credits: Amazon

Practicality

The second aspect that will be taken into consideration when planning drone shipping system is absolutely the practicality of it.

A system must have practicality for them to be useful for many parties that are going to be using that particular system. In this case, the drone operator, company and the customers are the stakeholders that make up the system structure.

First, for drone operator and the company, they will face difficulties when extending the reach of the aerial shipping method. This is due to the restriction placed on the drone platform itself. For the time being, drone can only fly averagely up to 30 minutes maximum, with horizontal radius 5 – 7 kilometers.

Carrying loads, of course, can use up the batteries even more, and realistically speaking the flying time can be less than 30 minutes. In regards to the radial distance, drones would not be able to cover a large distance. In that case, to completely automate the delivery process for a city, a few distribution and control centres have to be set up.

Moreover, customers might have difficulties in receiving the packages if no designated drop-off site erected. In Amazon’s case, their customers can actually set up the drop-off point themselves.

Customers will mark the delivery location with a “unique marker” and the drone will use its onboard sensors to ensure the delivery area is clear. “If that condition is met, it will descend to a safe delivery height, hold in a hover position and, barring any other obstructions or hazards being sensed, release the package.

This, however, will pose another difficulty for the receiver. Having to set up drop-off point themselves might be a bit more inconvenient compared to delivery person actually showing up at your doorsteps. Not to mention, spaces to set up those points are actually very hard to come by in big cities and this holds true especially in high-rise buildings.

Weather 

As the weather can change unpredictably despite forecasting technology that is readily available right now, this can put a constraint on the UAV delivery service as well.

Drones now operate on battery and battery can be easily damaged when it is in contact with water (rain). Not to mention, the packages can be damaged too (especially food) when it’s raining as packaging the goods in waterproof container might not be ideal for short-distance delivery.

Plus, most drones are not built to withstand fast wind in which also is unpredictable. As such, to operate drone delivery service, the weather factor also must be taken into consideration before executing it.

Bottom line

This article does not seek to undermine drone capability as the future replacement for despatch mission, but rather to point out the current challenges that drone players need to address as well as to correct public misconceptions about this aerial delivery system.

Poladrone, as a drone technology company always seeks out every opportunity for drone technology to develop and hence helping the society benefit from it.