The future of last-mile parcel delivery is fast and contactless, with delivery drivers focused on eliminating traffic and parking problems. An increasingly prominent option is the use of unmanned aerial vehicles or drones.
A study was published this week in the scientific journal comparing the environmental impact of different forms of last-mile delivery. Patterns.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University compared the energy consumption of quadcopter drones with diesel and electric medium-duty trucks, small vans and electric cargo bikes per package.
They found that the greenhouse gas emissions per package were 84% lower for drones than for diesel trucks. Unsurprisingly, drones used up to 94% less energy per package than trucks.
Small quadcopter drones and electric cargo bikes are among the most energy efficient modes for delivering small packages based on energy consumption per package.
However, the researchers also found that greenhouse gas emissions from drone parcel delivery depend on the total electricity required for delivery and the emission intensity of the regional power grid.
For example, a drone package delivery in the carbon-intensive central Midwest would emit up to 93% more CO2e per km traveled compared to regions with cleaner network mixes like New York. This raises problems for competitive delivery prices and in rolling out operations for national carriers such as Amazon.
We don’t compare like with like
While it’s a good start, the study has some limitations. Currently, drone delivery guys must comply with local airspace regulations in the geocache. In many cases, sight-free drones can be restricted from flying over people and/or motor vehicles – this could impose longer delivery routes, which is not considered in the current study.
This longer route could increase the drone’s energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions per package delivered.
Furthermore, this research focused on small, commercially available quadcopter drones with a payload of 0.5 kg (0.3 miles). These are most profitable in supplying small and light, high value-added items such as medical supplies, critical packages and small electronics.
Compare this to the general utility of an eCargo bike with a trailer that can carry the small packages of an apartment building, and the vans seem much more efficient. However, from a personnel perspective, you also have to consider the logistics of what I call ‘the final steps’.
The last steps challenge
A package-carrying drone can fly directly to the recipient. But it requires someone to come out and take delivery of the lowered drone.
By comparison, delivering an eCargo bike requires a rider to navigate the traffic and crowds along the curb to reach their destination. In the case of inner-city apartments, the delivery person has to park and place the delivery or may have to climb several stairs with several small packages.
So the delivery experience is very different.
I would be interested in future analyzes based on heavier drone cargoes.
I would also be interested in a comparative analysis of the energy consumption and efficiency of a drone and a sidewalk delivery robot like the one made by Starship Technologies.
Since both offer deliveries for one order, the comparison could provide more insight into the challenge of small order deliveries.
Ultimately, all solutions to remove and reduce diesel trucks in our cities need priority. This research provides some convincing statistics about the mix regarding the greening of our cities.