Following the release of the Drone Delivery Group White Paper accelerate the growth of the drone industry in the UK just two weeks ago, Robert Garbett, Chairman of the Drone Delivery Group, and Chairman of the British Standards Institution Drone Committee, dispels some of the myths around drones, warn against mistakes, and reveal the best way forward for the new government initiative.
The UK Government’s new initiative to find a fast way to deliver medicines and supplies via air drones, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, was welcomed today by one of the world’s leading experts on drone technology.
This welcome move by the Department for Transport will open the way to accelerated growth of the UK drone industry, and provides the opportunity for UK plc to become a world leader in this fast growth technology.
This initiative validates the saying that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’… but it will require facing up to the myths and mistakes of public perception of what is possible, and the reality of how best to apply this fast-developing technology.
In most people’s vision of drone delivery, there is an image of thousands of small air drones with parcels hanging from them being delivered to virtually every home in the Kingdom… but this would be the least practical and least achievable application for air drones yet conceived. Equally, although it may disappoint many people, the opportunity to see all our online orders delivered to our homes by drone any time soon is very slim indeed.
The issues associated with implementing such a concept for widespread household delivery are huge, for instance safety, security and the need for expensive infrastructure to make widespread use practical even in the medium term.
I believe that the future of air drones is far more exciting, and far closer than anyone thinks… but it does not look as the public or the media currently imagine it.
In reality, the evolution of delivery by air drone is more likely to look like this:
- Mid-mile delivery – the bulk transportation of cargo from storage hub to storage hub, or from airport to storage hub for onward delivery to increase capacity into remote and hard to reach areas or during emergencies, (such as the delivery of medicines and supplies during the current pandemic) or where access is temporarily restricted.
- Limited last-mile delivery – the delivery of items between locations where rapid delivery will save or significantly improve quality of life, such as medical supplies, medicines, organs and blood between or to hospitals.
- Industrial delivery applications – the movement of cargo and assets around industrial and transportation locations such as refineries, airports, or large logistics locations and smaller internal delivery operations for the delivery of mail, spares or tooling.
- Blue light support – the movement of supplies and equipment in support of blue light operations such as accident and traffic management, crime scene management and terrorist or public safety incident handling.
Beyond this, applications will undoubtedly widen to allow limited scenarios such as the delivery of:
- Critical items such as medication to seriously ill patients who have the right equipment installed to facilitate such a delivery.
- Spares and tools by air drone to the field repair unit who are undertaking critical repairs such as a leaking gas main or water main rupture or those undertaking time sensitive repairs to transport infrastructure.
- Supplies to remote locations such as lighthouses, individuals or small groups of residents who are extremely difficult to access
- Parcels to local collection points for collection by residents in housing developments.
In order to achieve this fast, all stakeholders in the drone industry must recognise the need for drone testing areas for applications to be developed safely and effectively, as reinforced by the UK Government’s initiative, and must work closely with regulators and standards makers to convey ‘lessons learned’ and to facilitate wider-scale adoption.
The way ahead, is that drones, whether on the earth’s surface, in the air, underwater, or in space, drones will soon permeate virtually every aspect of our universe, much in the way that electricity did when it was discovered well over a Century ago…to the benefit of society throughout the world.
By Robert Garbett
Chairman of the Drone Delivery Group and Chairman of the British Standards Institution Drone Committee