Posted: March 24th, 2023

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (Drones) in Logistics

Background

Innovation in logistics and delivery systems is revolutionizing the global models of conducting business. The growth witnessed in logistics influence efficiency and effective delivery of products. The use of robots in the delivery and logistics sector is a center of focus, given the influence witnessed in global business. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) are utilized in the logistics industry and contributes to the timely delivery of products. Woźniakowski, Zmarzłowski, and Nowakowska (2018) demonstrate the accuracy witnessed by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) in managing delivery systems. The authors illustrate that buyers can choose from a wider spectrum of delivery options based on requirement and preferences and on preferred delivery time, prices, and form of payments. Some of the common delivery models are managed by parcel services, courier facilities, or post. However, the utilization of disruptive technology devices such as drones and other robots for delivery has enabled the movement of goods to areas with challenging terrains and traffic issues while maximizing on efficacy and timely delivery. Although conventional logistics methods have managed global distribution, technology has continued to enhance logistics by adopting automation through innovative approaches such as UAVs and other robotic technologies.

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Drones are becoming more acceptable as a form of delivery logistics within supply chains. Park, Kim, and Suh (2018) demonstrate that UAV technology is used in today’s business world. According to the authors, the worldwide drone market grew in 2014 to $ 552 million, with projected annual progress of 16.9%. Accordingly, the authors illustrate that the application of drones within commercial operations has moved beyond the preserve of military purpose to an escalated application by the private sector. Given that drones are used as equipment to transmit assault weapons or as surveillance devices launched into the sky by the military, their application in day-to-day human activity in areas such as documentaries, sports broadcasts, and media coverage implies improved integration and acceptance of UAV technology. Park et al. (2018) further aver that drones are utilized to deliver goods in areas that are difficult to reach by land. Therefore, despite the early association with military activities, the overall acceptability of drones in corporate and individual level has been enhanced, given its competency in managing deliveries of goods and services, among other functions.

Companies Adopting UAV Technologies

Several entities have adopted UAV for commercial and private purposes. The approach provides effective services based on efficiency, leading to comparative advantage. The largest United States (US) based electronic retailer Amazon adopted UAV as a delivery model in 2013 (Park et al., 2018). According to Park et al. (2018), the delivery logistic named “Amazon Prime Air” utilized drones named “Octocopters” and delivered products of approximately 55 pounds to customers in a radius of 16 km within a timeline of 30 minutes. Amazon is one such global logistics company that has fully automated its delivery systems and utilizes modern and disruptive technology in its supply logistics.

Companies utilize the technology either within their private operations or externally in market distributions. Global logistics company DHL has evaluated the viability of third generation drones in its delivery channels. The areas that the company considers for drone technology include flight performance, accurate storage and shipping, flight technology, and autonomous flight (Park et al., 2018). Further, drones have been tested for delivering perishable goods, such as the commercial delivery of pizza into various destinations. According to Park et al. (2018), drones can effectively deliver food products because of the urgency attached to such orders. For instance, Domino succeeded in developing drones for delivering tacos in San Francisco. Scholars are conducting empirical research to ascertain drones’ effectiveness in supply and delivery logistics. Other significant areas where the remote pilotless vehicles (RPV) are used include military, farming, surveying crops, metrological departments, inspecting power lines and pipelines, delivering medical supplies to remote or inaccessible locations, counting wildlife and managing technical activities such as imaging through cloud, fog, or rain (Martin, 2016). The breakthrough in such platforms has led to the adoption of innovative technology, such as robots and drones, into the mainstream delivery and logistics sector.

Drones are managing last mile deliveries previously done by trucks. Tavana, Khalili-Damghani, Santos-Arteaga, and Zandi (2017) demonstrate a cross-docking inventory management model that improves distribution logistics for companies based on utilizing UAV. According to the authors, the cross-docking approach in logistic enables the loading of materials from outbound and directly loaded into inbound vehicles without the option of storage or warehousing. Tavana et al. (2017) assert that since cross docking uses trucks, drones have been utilized to manage last mile support in the supply chain. Drones are the transportation substitutes to trucks, especially during the last mile delivery in cities with significant traffic constraints, such as congestion and limited parking slots (Tavana et al., 2017). Hence, large inbound and outbound trucks do not have to maneuver through the busy traffic in cities to deliver simple orders when drones and other robotics are adopted into logistics.

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Additionally, firms that utilize drones to manage city eliminate the wait time, parking time and cost, unpacking duration and other challenges such as fuel costs and human resource working within the truck delivery system. Although drones deliver products to the actual customers or agents, they reduce emission caused by the conventional large trucks. Additionally, UAVs address challenges of truck scheduling in distribution management. Therefore, equipment such as robots and drones have simplified delivery techniques for city logistics.

Adopting UAV for last-mile deliveries has enhanced efficiency and reduced emission experienced from large delivery trucks. Figliozzi, (2017a) and Tavana et al. (2017) demonstrate that conventional supply chain management utilized light truck for distribution different from emerging supply chain processes supported by drones, as illustrated in figure I. The UAV is effective based on its ability to navigate through difficult terrains and traffic congestion experienced in major global cities.

Acceptance and Regulatory Environment

The regulatory environment where the technological environment works is not fully developed. Most of the operational challenges related to the commercial use of drones are based on safety and privacy violations. Although adoption levels of drones technology have improved, the supporting infrastructure, such as enabling policies, regulatory mechanism, and technical expertise in management, are yet to be operational (Park et al., 2018). Vlahovic, Knezevic, and Batalic (2016) demonstrate that the effectiveness of drones is realized after customers are satisfied or when the delivery of services is efficient. Therefore, any limitation in the regulatory frameworks should be managed to enable early testing and adoption of drone technology in logistics.

Drones development remains highly skilled and reserved for engineers and other computer proficient individuals. However, the U.S. has acknowledged and emphasized the adoption of drones in the private sector through the establishment of enabling infrastructure under the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority laws (Park et al., 2018). The law outlines various standards for operators, such as training and observing strict regulations when flying the drones to deliver products. Some of the concerns regulated by the U.S. include flying drones away from private properties and managing a distance of at least six miles from airports and other restricted areas such as army barracks. Such approaches enhance the adoption of UAV in the distribution sector.

The general acceptability of drones, robots, and other devices continues growing among citizen and corporate entities. Kuru, Ansell, Khan, and Yetgin (2019) explain that one of Chinas largest retailer, Alibaba, utilizes drones to deliver books and other orders to customers. Singapore Post, a postal service company, also adopted UAV within its delivery systems. Accordingly, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) of the United Kingdom (UK) has granted licenses to over 350 organizations to fly UAV for commercial business (Kuru et al., 2019). According to Kuru et al. (2019), approximately 30, 000 drones will be flown in the U.S. by 2020, among other civilian devices. The figures indicate that the overall acceptability of UAV is growing among commercial and corporate entities. Additionally, individuals also apply the devices for photo shooting and other non-commercial purposes.

According to Carlsson and Song (2017), integrating UAV and light trucks in managing delivery is more efficient. Whereas light truck can deliver relatively more consignments, drones will reach relatively far destinations with limited infrastructures, such as effective roads, without being affected by congestion and lack of parking space in many towns.  

UAV Technology and Manufacture

UAVs are developed through innovative engineering processes. Martin (2016) explains the process of delivering packages from an initial point to multiple points using a drone. According to Martin (2016), the operation of a UAV is coordinated by software commands from a logistic or hosting company. A qualified operator controls the process from a standardized computer application tools. The device docks on an elevated platform to transport consignments (Martin, 2016). Additionally, it is conveyed from docking by a central shaft of a raised structure through an elevator, where it then trips to lower platforms such as offices or houses for pickups. Thus, UAVs are controlled devices that depend on a central control point for their operation.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) regards unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) as remotely piloted aircraft (RPA). Martin (2016) clarifies that a UAV has a wireless communication between the points of delivery and the coordination point. The logistical safety and maintenance software coordinates the various functions projected in picking and delivering consignments. The software guides the route used for specific deliveries, weather patterns, its mechanical condition, and the sequence of deliveries projected by the host organization.

The operation of drones is based on the number of engines that propel its maneuvers. Some of the engine types include bicopters and tricopters, which are two and three engines, respectively. Others include quadrocopters, a four-engine drone, and hexacopters with six-engine UAVs. Finally, octocopters have eight engines. The performance of the drone depends on battery life, which lasts not less than 15 minutes of flight (Kardasz, Doskocz, Hejduk, Wiejkut, and Zarzycki, 2016). Notable, lithium batteries are commonly used to power drones and Zinc-carbon, Zinc-mercury, Silver-zinc, and Alkaline models. According to Figliozzi (2017b), the cost of a drone depends on its capacity and engine functionality. For instance, the most expensive multicopter bronze costs approximately $20,000 each with a flying time of 20-30 minutes. Furthermore, the author posits that drones have a Battery capacity of 0.777 kWh for a range of 25 km. Drones also come in several types, including fixed-wing hybrid, multi-rotor, fixed rotor, and single rotor. The cost implies that drones are doable for corporate companies.

UAV is controlled by software when flying to various locations. The software enables the hosting organization to control and alter the flight schedules during, before, or after deliveries (Martin, 2016). The secured delivery system is the main feature of a drone, which is enhanced to avoid operational failure during delivery. A significant part of the drone contains a storage unit configured to carry packages. Additionally, the device has a docking section developed to communicate with the delivery point on an elevated platform. According to Martin (2016), drones contain batteries, which power the gadget and act as fuel sources that sustain UAV operations. During configurations of the device, the warehouse acting as a delivery source for consignment is marked as government offices, commercial business, or residential houses, among other destinations, which are organized as delivery points and configured for effective communications. Martin (2016) further demonstrates that the elevated structure is a tower-like platform designed to convey goods between the docking ends and the lower structure of the central shaft.

Additionally, a drone has a rechargeable battery complete with a charger developed to recharge it before and after operations (Martin, 2016). UAV is configured to interconnect through a wireless platform that enables communication with the recipient after delivery of parcels, then fly to the next destinations as per scheduled trips. The communication also helps controllers to alter the course, routes and delay trips due to weather to avoid destroying packages for other destinations. According to the author, significant infrastructure for UAV includes an elevated structure built as delivery points for customers to receive their consignments.

Advantages of UAV on Global Logistics

Logistics companies have created a niche through the adoption of UAV. By utilizing drones, companies manage cost and time, especially in cities characterized by congestion challenges (Figliozzi, 2017a). Companies that seek to adopt UAV systems must develop methods and platforms to realize the advantages of this technology. According to Kuru et al. (2019), such entities develop frameworks that schedule delivery to utilize drones in areas with poor road access or traffic congestions.                                                                                                                                                              

Conclusion

Conventional logistics systems have managed the distribution market for several decades. However, technology continues to deliver efficiency through reduced operational costs in the global supply chains. Automating global logistics through UAVs in delivery systems is a breakthrough in managing city logistics. Customer and providers no longer worry about the traffic congestions, parking slots within cities, and destinations with poor infrastructural networks. UAV in logistics delivers the effective change desired over the last decades. Drones are utilized as transportation substitutes to trucks, especially during the last mile delivery in major cities. Additionally, they provide improved customer satisfaction by delivering services that enhance efficiency in deliveries.

 

References

Barmpounakis, E. N., Vlahogianni, E. I., & Golias, J. C. (2016). Unmanned Aerial Aircraft Systems for transportation engineering: Current practice and future challenges. International Journal of Transportation Science and Technology, 5(3), 111-122.

Carlsson, J. G., & Song, S. (2017). Coordinated logistics with a truck and a drone. Management Science, 64(9), 4052-4069.

Figliozzi, M. (2017). Drones for commercial last-mile deliveries: A discussion of logistical, environmental, and economic trade-offs. Civil and Environmental Engineering Faculty, 9(15), 1-35.

Figliozzi, M. A. (2017). Lifecycle modeling and assessment of unmanned aerial vehicles (Drones) CO2e emissions. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, 57, 251-261.

Kardasz, P., Doskocz, J., Hejduk, M., Wiejkut, P., & Zarzycki, H. (2016). Drones and Possibilities of their Using. Journal of Civil Environmental Engineering, 6(3), 1-7.

Kuru, K., Ansell, D., Khan, W., & Yetgin, H. (2019). Analysis and optimization of unmanned aerial vehicle swarms in logistics: An intelligent delivery platform. IEEE Access, 7, 15804-15831.

Martin, J. (2016). U.S. Patent Application No. 14/481,456. Retrieved from https://patentimages.storage.googleapis.com/54/69/e9/d6680117e6ee18/US20160257423A1.pdf

Park, J., Kim, S., & Suh, K. (2018). A comparative analysis of the environmental benefits of drone-based delivery services in urban and rural areas. Sustainability, 10(3), 888.

Tavana, M., Khalili-Damghani, K., Santos-Arteaga, F. J., & Zandi, M. H. (2017). Drone shipping versus truck delivery in a cross-docking system with multiple fleets and products. Expert Systems with Applications, 72, 93-107. doi:10.1016/j.eswa.2016.12.014

Vlahovic, N., Knezevic, B., & Batalic, P. (2016). Implementing delivery drones in logistics business process: Case of pharmaceutical industry. World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology, International Journal of Social, Behavioral, Educational, Economic, Business and Industrial Engineering, 10(12), 3981-3986.

Woźniakowski, T., Zmarzłowski, K., & Nowakowska, M. (2018). Automation and innovations in logistic processes of electronic commerce. Information Systems in Management, 7(1), 72-82, doi:10.22630/ISIM.2018.7.1.7

 

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