Replacing Trucks With Delivery Drones Could Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

  • Nick Jaynes has worked for more than a decade in automotive media industry. In that time, he's done it all—from public relations for Chevrolet to new-car reviews for Mashable. Nick now lives in Portland, Oregon and spends his weekends traversing off-road trails in his 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser.

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Using thousands of worker-bee-like drones to deliver packages might simply seem like a more futuristic way to deliver goods to people’s homes, certainly more so than using a human driver in a fossil-fuel-powered van.

It’s more than a gimmick, though. Introducing a fleet of drones could have broader impacts than filling the sky with buzzing autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles.

Turns out, if implemented strategically, delivery drones could also reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with package delivery. This, according to a study published in the journal Nature.

Replacing vans and trucks with drones is not a simple one-for-one swap.

That’s because the relatively short average range per drone, which the authors of the study estimate at 2.48 miles (4 kilometers), is much smaller than that of a requisite ground-based delivery van. As a result, more urban warehouses and way stations are required to support delivery drones.

USPS truck
A United States Postal Truck, the Grumman LLV, first went into service in 1987 and remains in service today.

 

What’s more, a drone would have to travel further per package than a truck or van. That’s because it can only carry a single package at a time. A van or truck can carry dozens.

Adding these support warehouses and way stations increases the life-cycle impacts of drone utilization, as they multiply energy consumption. Despite the additional warehouses and their energy needs, scientists concluded that using drones to deliver packages would result in a net reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

The authors of the study did add a caveat to this conclusion, however. They caution that firms keen to implement drones as delivery tools would need to work to limit the number of supportive way stations as well as the size of the drones to achieve that net benefit.

Now that it is clear that delivery drones aren’t just a gimmick but a real substantive way to deliver packages with a smaller carbon footprint, companies just have to overcome the hurdle that people find autonomous delivery drones creepy.


About the Author

  • Nick Jaynes has worked for more than a decade in automotive media industry. In that time, he's done it all—from public relations for Chevrolet to new-car reviews for Mashable. Nick now lives in Portland, Oregon and spends his weekends traversing off-road trails in his 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser.

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