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Delivery by drone is an irresistible idea. It’s the stuff of 80s sci-fi movies, the future we imagined we’d have. With Christmas around the corner, and Amazon arriving on our shores, will kids be watching the sky for drones rather than reindeer this Christmas Eve?
Sadly, drone delivery won’t be here by Christmas, according to Deakin Senior Research Fellow with the Centre for Supply Chain and Logistics, Dr Roberto Perez-Franco. There is however a pretty exciting future for chain logistics in Australia, and we can relax knowing that drone delivery is inevitable, eventually.
We could be in for quite a wait, warns Dr Perez-Franco. ‘I think we are many years away from seeing drone delivery becoming the norm for Amazon or any other retailer anywhere,’ Dr Perez-Franco says. ‘Even in places where Amazon reigns supreme, like the US, drone delivery is not the norm. There is a tendency to overestimate these new technologies in the short term, and to underestimate them in the long term.’
Drone delivery is a real possibility in Australia, it’s just the when and what that we don’t know yet. ‘I have no doubt that drones will be used for delivery in Australia and around the world. There are many people investing in this technology, and new patents are filed all the time by the likes of Amazon and Google,’ Dr Perez-Franco says.
‘The ‘when’ will depend – obviously – on the speed of maturation of the technology. There is a level of safety and economy that needs to be reached for drone delivery to become more common.’
There are hurdles that need to be addressed first, such as the state of Australian regulations. ‘The rules concerning flying drones around urban areas for delivery are not in place yet,’ Dr Perez-Franco says.
'There are many people investing in this technology, and new patents are filed all the time by the likes of Amazon and Google.'
Dr Roberto Perez-Franco,
The biggest limitation for drones is weight and size, explains Dr Perez-Franco. ‘Very heavy or large objects are unlikely to be moved via drone at all. For those, I think a ground-based autonomous delivery vehicle (which I call a ‘squirrel’) is a more likely candidate.’
Australia Post is currently testing a ‘squirrel’ in the Brisbane suburb of Newfarm, and Dr Perez-Franco sees it as a step in the right direction. ‘Rolling on wheels on the ground, albeit slower, is more energy efficient than flying an octocopter.’
He suggests drones won’t be the only solution for parcel delivery. ‘If I had to bet, I would say that the future of parcel delivery will be a mix of technologies, including both land-based and aerial unmanned delivery vehicles. Drones and squirrels will coexist, is my guess, probably operating out of moving distribution centres.’
His prediction conjures up a pretty futuristic image: ‘Think of a large platform on wheels, that parks near a city, full of parcels that are then delivered by an army of flying and rolling autonomous delivery critters, which go to homes and back to the platform – where they reload and recharge.’
Robotic delivery is just one piece of tomorrow’s supply chain puzzle. What does the future look like for supply chain management in Australia? Deakin’s Centre for Supply Chain and Logistics recently examined this question for the Federal Government’s Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development.
‘Australia needs a nationwide freight and supply chain strategy, and the government has initiated work on that,’ Dr Perez-Franco says. Part of that work is an exercise in scenario planning with a panel of experts. ‘Ubiquitous online retailing and direct delivery to consumers was seen by the experts that participated in our exercise almost as a given.’
‘Considered almost certain by our participants was the importance of visibility and traceability of goods from the point of origin to the point of consumption. And this has to do with supply chain management. It’s about orchestrating the operation of the whole chain of entities that are involved with moving goods from source to consumer. The idea is that decisions can be better when made with the whole chain in mind.’
Good supply chain management will be vital for businesses. Dr Perez-Franco says companies that are better at e-business and managing their supply chains will be the ones that remain. ‘I think both e-business and supply chain management are about having an edge, an extra advantage over competitors.’
So, back to Christmas – will Santa’s sleigh be replaced by a drone? Likely something less exciting, says Dr Perez-Franco. ‘I think for now it will be replaced with a white van. Smaller delivery vehicles, manned first and autonomous later, both medium and small, will be at our doors way before drones, if you ask me. But we could always fit the ‘squirrel’ with a red nose!’
Want to be there first as business in Australia adapts to the future? Find out more about a career in e-business and supply chain management at Deakin.
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