Will drones change logistics? Examples and future prospects

Currently, new services that combine drones and logistics are attracting a lot of attention, such as the drone logistics demonstration experiment conducted in the UK by the world’s e-commerce giant Amazon, and the drone delivery service experiment conducted by 7-Eleven in the United States. According to the “2015 Survey and Tabulation Method for the Number of Packages Handled by Couriers, etc.”, the number of packages handled by courier services in Japan is increasing year by year, and when comparing 2005 to 2015, it has increased by about 28% in 11 years.

For this reason, delivering parcels quickly and reliably is one of the most important issues for Japan’s economic development, and is an essential measure to change the future of logistics. In this article, we will consider the future prospects of logistics using drones, using actual examples.

Will drones change logistics?  Examples and future prospects

table of contents

  1. What is drone logistics?
  2. What are the challenges faced by Japan’s logistics industry?
  3. Intensifying traffic congestion due to increased logistics
  4. Logistics slowdown due to labor shortage
  5. Operational inefficiency due to redelivery
  6. Is drone logistics really possible? What is the legal framework like?
  7. Huge cargo drone making its debut overseas: Saberwing Aircraft
  8. Initiatives of drone logistics “Soraku”

What is drone logistics?

A drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle, and most drones are developed to fit within 1 meter square. Small drones are also available at electronics stores and toy stores, and are gaining wide popularity because they can be operated like radio controls.

Although it was originally developed for military use, commercialization quickly progressed in 2010 when the French technology company Parrot developed and sold the AR.Drone. The ability to install and operate apps on iPhones and iPads was quite innovative at the time.

Drones are being used in a variety of industries due to their ease of use, and their range of applications is now expanding to include spraying chemicals in agricultural work, surveying construction sites, and inspecting and monitoring large buildings. Although it has not yet been put into practical use, drone logistics has been attracting a lot of attention since 2016.

Literally, it means using drones to run the logistics process, and it is a service that uses drones to deliver products ordered by individuals and corporations. If drones fly around within a range of 30m to 150m above the sky where there are no people or planes, it will be possible to deliver products in a fixed amount of time regardless of traffic conditions, greatly changing the way logistics works.

What are the challenges faced by Japan’s logistics industry?

Intensifying traffic congestion due to increased logistics

As mentioned above, the number of parcels handled by courier services in Japan’s domestic logistics is increasing year by year. This means that special vehicles will be needed to deliver the products, and traffic congestion will become more severe. Traffic congestion, especially in urban areas, is extremely severe, causing major stagnation in the logistics process.

Logistics slowdown due to labor shortage

Even though the number of parcels handled by courier services continues to increase, the labor force is not increasing at all. The logistics industry is suffering from a serious labor shortage, and the shortage is expected to continue as the number of drivers decreases and the population ages. In particular, the number of truck drivers has been decreasing year by year since they cannot drive with a regular driver’s license, and it takes a certain amount of cost and effort to obtain a license.

Operational inefficiency due to redelivery

35% of parcel deliveries in Tokyo are unattended deliveries. Drivers have to take the same route again to make deliveries, which reduces work efficiency. This has worsened the working environment and led to a decrease in the number of logistics personnel.

As mentioned above, there are three serious issues facing modern Japanese logistics, and their solutions are urgent.

Is drone logistics really possible? What is the legal framework like?

If drone logistics becomes fully operational, customers may be able to receive the benefits of various service improvements, such as being able to receive purchased products anytime and anywhere, and being able to specify delivery times in more detail. But is drone logistics really possible? The issue that has been raised is, of course, “legislation”.

If e-commerce businesses fly drones as they please, traffic jams may eventually occur above our heads. The danger is damage to people from contact between drones or birds, or from a drone crashing out of control. Therefore, in order to make drone logistics a reality, it is necessary to develop solid legislation, and the Japanese government is moving forward with this at a rapid pace.

According to interim documents compiled by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism’s “Drone Logistics Business Model Study Group in Depopulated Areas” in June 2019, the legal development regarding drone logistics is summarized as follows.

● Regardless of where you fly an unmanned aircraft, you must follow the rules below. If you attempt to fly an unmanned aircraft without following these rules, you must take safety measures and Approval must be obtained from the Minister of Transport.

  1. Flying during the day (from sunrise to sunset)
  2. Flying while constantly monitoring the unmanned aircraft and its surroundings within visual (direct naked eye) range.
  3. The aircraft must be flown while maintaining a distance (30m) from third parties or third-party buildings, third-party vehicles, and other objects.
  4. Do not fly over places where large numbers of people gather, such as festivals and festivals.
  5. Do not transport dangerous materials such as explosives
  6. Do not drop objects from unmanned aircraft

● In response to safety issues such as incidents of drones falling, the “Act for Partial Amendment of the Civil Aviation Act” was enacted on December 10, 2015, and the Basic rules for security have been established.

● From 2016 to 2017, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism conducted research and development on a “logistics drone port system” that enables safe automatic takeoff and landing for drones flying beyond visual line of sight and can be installed at low cost.

However, the legal framework for drones is more focused on regulating drone flights than on legal revisions to optimize logistics, and it is thought that it will still take some time for practical drone logistics to become a reality .

Huge cargo drone making its debut overseas: Saberwing Aircraft

One of the companies that is currently making headlines in the drone industry is the American venture company Sabrewing Aircraft Comp any . It is said to be a huge cargo drone with wings that are 10m long and can fly at 400km/hour at an altitude of 6,000m while carrying nearly 1,000kg of cargo. The company’s drones are attracting attention for being able to reach almost any remote region on Earth in all weather conditions without a pilot on board, and are safer, more economical, and more efficient than manned air cargo planes. Masu. It appears to be currently under development, but the Aleut community of St. Paul Island (A CS PI) has already announced that they have decided to purchase 10 aircraft. Due to these movements, drones that can cross the Pacific Ocean may no longer be a thing of the near future.

drone logistics

Initiatives of drone logistics “Soraku”

Rakuten, a major domestic e-commerce company, has launched a project called “Soraku” to realize logistics using drones, and is conducting demonstration experiments. Soraku is a fully autonomous flying drone that operates beyond visual line of sight, and allows you to order and request delivery of products from an intuitively operated app. Accurate landing is possible using image recognition and beacons , and the first project was to provide this service at a golf course (Camel Golf Resort, Chiba Prefecture).

The golf course was chosen because it has a vast open space, clearly meeting user needs, and because it is privately owned land in a non-populated area, making regulatory measures easy. Additionally, as there are over 3,000 golf courses nationwide, the market size is expected to expand.

In addition, Soraku is working on drone logistics as a new solution to support people living in areas where logistics are difficult, and as a means of delivering necessary supplies to disaster-stricken areas in the event of a disaster.

What do you think? It will still take some time for drone logistics to be put into practical use, but it is not that far off in the future. If realized, it would be possible to overcome the various challenges facing the logistics industry and provide high-quality services to more people. Let’s continue to pay attention to drone logistics.


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