Drones can be an asset for last mile delivery

Nishith Rastogi, CEO & Co-founder, Locus


Mentions of the term “drone” in India are often associated with negative connotations. The reality is far different. Productive usage of drone related innovations now has the eyes and ears of Government of India (GoI) and Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). As a result of sustained efforts by Indian industry players, commercial drone users and defence authorities, regulations regarding drone usage are picking up steam.

Now add to this the fact that India is touted to be among the world’s fastest growing drone markets. Market intelligence firm BIS Research pegs the Indian unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) market at $885.7 million by 2021. Market analyst firm HNY Research values the global and regional UAV market at $17.92 Billion in 2017. It expects market growth to $48.99 billion by the end of 2023. The drone market is estimated to register CAGR of 18.25% between 2017 and 2023.

Widening horizons

For over a century, the term “drone” has been synonymous with UAVs. The term’s scope has now been expanded to include small surface drones, operating on the ground. Keeping aside military applications (which have been always been at the forefront of cutting edge UAV deployment), civilian and business usage of drones is at an all time high globally.

Battery and sensor technology advances translate to more cost-effective options for consumer and enterprise domains. Areas such as logistics, agriculture, security, e-commerce, energy, disaster relief, and research have embraced the immense possibilities presented by drones. Other practical applications for UAVs are already underway in areas specific to research, wildlife conservation, and construction.


Wider horizons

Among the earliest drone adopters, logistics has traditional transporting processes which involve extra workforce and costs. Without fixed sorting structures, drones offer the increased flexibility and speed of an automated system with easy scalability in distribution centres.

Last-mile leg is every supply chain’s most complex network. Drones can ensure increased on-time serviceability, allowing multiple delivery options to consumers. Immediate impact of drones will be the transportation of smaller shipments in dense urban environments, as e-commerce volumes grow.

Leading Indian e-commerce majors have been leading advocates for drone usage in Indian logistics. For example, Amazon’s filing of multiple drone technology related patents with the Indian Patent Office is a sign of times to come for Indian e-tailing.

In agriculture, drones can gather required geographical data and transmit real time information. Drones can work wonders to assess land and crop health for India’s farming sector—issue advance warnings, and even aid settlement of compensation under crop insurance schemes.

UAVs are essential in situations that require swift responses, especially during disasters or epidemics. Drones have contributed to various humanitarian operations as well for collecting data and images where infrastructure was destroyed due to warfare and natural calamities (for example, in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan in 2013).

Reinforce law’s long arm

Drones can help law enforcement with public safety, crowd and traffic surveillance. Recently, Bengaluru Police used drone aerial cameras to ensure safety of women and keep tabs on suspicious activities during New Year Celebrations. The drones covered a large area capturing live monitoring visuals in real-time from a height of 60 meters.

The Mumbai-Pune Expressway is yet another example where Maharashtra Police conducted pilot projects to identify traffic violators using drones. Procurement of drones for traffic monitoring and control of the 94 kilometre highway stretch is in process.

Time for Digital Sky

After prolonged deliberation, the DGCA published a draft Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) to regulate operation of drones and other unmanned aerial systems (UAS) for discussion in November 2017. It’s waiting comments from the Ministry of Home Affairs prior to finalisation and release (as of April 2018). The CAR is expected to be integrated with “Digital Sky”, an automated platform which integrates registration, management and flight operation of drones.

Despite speculative views that surround drone usage, businesses are eyeing developments in drone technology. The challenge is to transform public perceptions of drones from being hackable and privacy-invasive machines to productive use cases which meaningfully transform lives.

The drone economy is witnessing explosive growth. Technology evolution and maturity, along with enhanced safety features and sensible regulations present possibilities that are limited only by human imagination. As a country, we need to ready ourselves sufficiently to leverage this path breaking technology.

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