7 Cost, Efficiency, Safety, Environmental Benefits for Last Mile Operators

More than a decade ago, Jeff Bezos unveiled Amazon’s drone delivery plans to “60 Minutes.”

The interview was in 2013. Bezos called the Federal Aviation Administration’s plans to allow flights beyond an operator’s vision by 2015 “optimistic.”

It only took a decade. The FAA is finally allowing four companies to operate drones beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) of a remote pilot. This means longer flights, new markets and another disruption in supply chain.

Clearly, supply chain leaders (especially final mile companies) need to be investing in drones, routing platforms and ways to compete as more deliveries take to the air.

Drones can benefit final miles deliveries in seven ways.

What Is Final Mile Delivery?

Final mile delivery (also called last mile delivery) involves the last leg of a package’s destination.

Before eCommerce, that meant UPS or FedEx delivering packages to businesses. Or couriers delivering legal documents. Or catalog deliveries to homebound customers.

Today, eCommerce has broadened the final mile. The click of a button could have a refrigerator, a widget, a book, a mobile phone – virtually anything – at your door in days or hours.

Final mile is not synonymous with a mode of transportation. Your mailman could walk a package to your mailbox. Your delivery driver can drop items off from a van or a UPS truck. Or drones could drop goods on your front porch or place them in lockers in specialized landing stations.

1. Increased Efficiency and Speed Equals More and Better Data

Drones that fly beyond an operator’s visual line of sight can cover long distances. Some sources say heavy-duty drones can fly 10 miles, maybe 20 miles a day. Others put the upper range at 30 miles a day.

Either way, those numbers will likely increase as technology improves. Surveillance drones already fly much farther.

Whatever the distance, avoiding ground-bound traffic makes quicker deliveries and reduced transit times. Last-mile delivery companies reduce costs.

This allows each drone to make more trips from fulfillment centers. More trips mean collecting more high-quality data. BVLOS drones collect data about flight paths, weather conditions and obstacles. Your company can analyze this data to optimize routes, reduce delivery times and enhance safety.

2. Cost Savings: From Labor to Maintenance

BVLOS operations allow companies to save money by optimizing routes and reducing manual labor. You can use that cash flow to reinvent or create more jobs.

One Gartner report puts drone operational costs 70% lower than van delivery service. Much of that comes from labor and vehicle maintenance savings.

3. Expanded Reach: From Vast Spaces to Islands – Even Offshore

BVLOS enables delivery services to reach remote and rural communities.

In many areas, drones could replace slow-moving ferries, lengthy bridges and long commutes. Expanding those delivery options can expand your market reach.

Many places in the western U.S. and Canada have isolated regions and low population densities. Some have minimal air traffic and large pockets of uncontrolled airspace.

Offshore oil rigs can be a few hundred meters or hundreds of miles off a coastline. I doubt those workers see many Amazon vans!

Even areas in the heavily populated East can benefit. Here’s a video touting drone delivery potential on the North Carolina Outer Banks. And hospitals have been testing drone delivery of medical supplies for years.

4. Reduced Traffic Congestion: Bypass Those Wrecks and Bottlenecks

Ever wish you could hop out of your car, grab a helicopter or plane and escape traffic jams?

I’ve talked to plenty of delivery drivers who have dreamed up such a fantasy.

BVLOS drone delivery makes this possible. Drones can bypass road networks. Taking those delivery vans off the road helps the remaining drivers stuck on asphalt.

This dual benefit helps your final mile company, eases traffic management and boosts environmental sustainability. Delivery processes in urban areas can greatly improve.

5. Environmental Impact: Greener Fuel, Less Heavy Infrastructure

BVLOS drones produce fewer emissions compared to traditional delivery vehicles.

Drones save fuel by traveling farther in a shorter amount of time. The cost-per-mile reductions slice your final mile company’s carbon footprint and contribute to a greener environment.

Electricity also can come from renewable sources. Yes, we do have electric delivery vehicles these days. But many of those suffer from range limitations and other operational issues.

Final mile companies can also increase the volume of deliveries without requiring heavy infrastructure investment. More drones don’t equate to more asphalt.

6. Enhanced Safety and Precision: Fewer Accidents, Less Liability, Delivery Tracking

Drones minimize the number of hours human drivers navigate busy roads, adverse weather conditions and hazardous conditions. Fewer human drivers mean fewer accidents and reduced liability for final mile companies.

Drones also incorporate cameras, LiDar (light detection and ranging) and ultrasonic sensors to avoid obstacles during flight. So, your drones autonomously adjust their path to avoid buildings, trees, power lines and other objects.

These systems also make final-mile delivery tracking a cinch.

And although not final mile related, BVLOS drones can safely inspect power lines, pipelines, buildings, railroads and other infrastructure. Flying a drone is much cheaper and easier than climbing a power line, a building, or driving into the middle of nowhere to examine a pipeline.

7. Convenience for Consumers: Final Mile Delivery Service Metrics that Matter

Drone deliveries follow pre-planned flight paths and adhere to strict rules. Unlike human drivers, drones won’t face unexpected delays, detours, bridge outages, road closures or traffic accidents.

This predictable schedule ensures timely deliveries.

That’s one metric that means a lot to the final mile company and the customer. Customers don’t have to wait to pick up packages at their doorstep. Meeting customer expectations means customer satisfaction, and that breeds customer loyalty.

The Final Mile Solution – Choose Drone Systems Carefully

Despite the exciting advances, companies must carefully consider the right final mile delivery software and systems to expand their drone services. A lot of systems must work together to ensure efficient, secure deliveries that do not compromise safety or reliability.

Beyond the drone itself, final mile companies should consider:

  • Advanced landing stations: Landing stations are unsung heroes, the crucial interface between drones and ground. A well-designed landing station ensures safe landings, protects packages from the elements and minimizes human interaction with drone activity. Stations should shed precipitation and debris and adapt seamlessly to various environmental conditions.
  • Precise package alignment: Your drone delivery system should precisely align packages and drones. This alignment ensures reliable loading and unloading, effortlessly orchestrating this delicate dance.
  • Automated package movement: Internal package robotics can automatically move packages between drones and secure lockers. This automation enhances efficiency and package safety with seamless integration.
  • Robust connectivity: The drone delivery station should offer multiple network connectivity options, including mobile, low earth orbit satellite and Wi-Fi. Reliable communication keeps the landing station in touch with package delivery software, allowing real-time tracking and coordination.
  • Chain of custody assurance: Trust is paramount. The landing station’s software system should connect the entire ecosystem seamlessly. From customers to drones and other stakeholders, this integrated solution ensures a secure chain of custody.

These are exciting times for final mile companies and delivery services everywhere.

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