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Drone technology
is helping
to transform
distribution

Author: Poornima Apte

A boom in e-commerce has exacerbated last-mile challenges. How can we deliver packages the final distance at the lowest price and with the least environmental impact? Drone technology might provide answers for the distribution industry.

How drone technology can help

Powered by 4G, or in the future, 5G network connectivity, a fleet of drones can help companies implement last-mile solutions at scale.

While a drone does not have a human on board, it usually still needs an operator on the ground to oversee operations. However, if federal regulations evolve to allow operators to control more than one drone at a time, one operator controlling more than one drone could help make the process cost-effective and scalable because a fleet of drones could be managed by fewer human operators. Drones also consult preinstalled onboard maps. Much like how a set of maps in a car's GPS system can help determine the optimal route to a destination, routing software and advanced computer vision could help aid with adjusting flight paths to avoid other air traffic and obstacles, while helping to compute the most direct path to the final point. Built-in sensors can also detect obstacles along the way and adjust flight paths to fly around them.

New drone technology can also adjust accordingly to changing situations on the ground. Communications with ground control can help drones reconfigure paths or add on or delete tasks as needed. A central coordinator can dispatch the closest drones to a job, further maximizing efficiency.

5G drone technology

New drone technology improvements should be able to leverage the lower latency and high-speed connectivity of 5G networks to implement these last-mile distribution solutions at scale.

Specifically, 5G could help in at least four ways:

  1. New drone technology can use 5G to transmit data more efficiently. 5G's low latency and large bandwidth means larger fleets of drones could be deployed while creating fewer bottlenecks of data transmission to the ground stations.
  2. 5G could help to move flights beyond the line of sight. Flight beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) plays a big role in realizing the full potential of drones. 5G offers the potential to minimize takeoff and landing operations and allow drones to fly further because battery life could be extended as a result of increased flight efficiency.
  3. 5G could also help support universal traffic management systems, making drone management scalable.
  4. Low-altitude communications between drones should advance new drone technology, helping distributors find new solutions for last-mile deliveries or react to situations on the ground to reassign jobs in real time. 5G should facilitate these communications, too.

As the distribution and logistics industries look for new ways to resolve last-mile challenges, expect 5G drone technology to play a key role in increasing productivity and efficiency while decreasing production costs.

Learn more about how 5G powered drone monitoring could reduce costs and improve safety.