Drones Emerge as Valuable Tools in Supply Chain Logistics

In December, 2013 Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled plans for a new service called Amazon Prime Air that would use drones to deliver packages to customers’ homes within 30 minutes of placing an order. Because drones aren’t bound by postcodes, they have the potential to make delivery services faster and more efficient than ever. Prime Air is still in the conceptual stages of development, largely because of regulatory hang-ups with the FAA, but Amazon remains committed to their vision of a world where fleets of drones could one day replace delivery trucks.

We might not have drones delivering packages to our doors quite yet, but companies like Amazon and Wal-Mart are already testing out drones in their warehouses. Here in these massive distribution centers, drones are used to track inventories and alert human workers when products are missing or out of place. In addition to carrying payloads, drones can also be used to collect data and help improve operational efficiency. Wal-Mart expects that their warehouse drones can make their operations more lean and efficient than ever. In the future, drones could even help companies optimize delivery routes and gather information about traffic patterns that might impede traditional delivery trucks.

As the autonomous flight control capabilities of drones have improved over the years, companies in the logistics industry have become increasingly interested in their practical applications. Advances in battery technology, which have significantly increased the range of drones, have made the tools more appealing to businesses as well.

Just a few years ago, many logistics experts would have probably brushed off drone delivery as a pipe dream. Today, however, it’s becoming an increasingly viable possibility. In fact, it’s not the technology that’s holding drone delivery back. Rather, it’s a slow regulatory process that has yet to figure out how to manage drone flight paths in the same way we manage airplanes. By the time the FAA sorts that out, you can bet there will be plenty of businesses chomping at the bit to put drones to work in their operations.