Can drones really deliver more sustainable?

The growing demand for fast, contactless deliveries has driven firms to experiment with automated package-delivery vehicles that can avoid urban traffic and rapidly reach customers.

Widespread adoption of uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) to replace a portion of first/last-mile truck pickups and deliveries could reshape transportation energy by changing demand patterns and shifting fuel use from fossil fuels to electricity.

There is a need to optimize drones and systems to maximize energy productivity. In a new paper in Patterns, researchers help stakeholders and researchers understand the energy use of parcel-delivery drones and provide an open model based on 188 delivery-drone flights with a range of payloads, speeds, and altitudes.

The model shows that an electric quadcopter drone with a tiny parcel (0.5 kg) would consume approximately 0.08 MJ/km, resulting in 70 g of CO2 per parcel in the United States. The researchers compare drone delivery with other vehicles and show that energy per parcel delivered by drones (0.33 MJ/package) can be up to 94% lower than conventional transportation modes, with only electric cargo bicycles providing lower GHGs/package. The open model and coefficients can assist stakeholders in understanding and improving the sustainability of small parcel delivery.

The researchers show the impact of the cruise speed and payload mass on the drone’s range, provide generalizable coefficients for others to estimate drone energy use, and show that the energy per parcel delivered by drones can be up to 94% lower than conventional transportation modes.

The researchers use a 2.4 kg drone with up to 0.5 kg payloads. In contrast, the current Wing drone weighs 5.2 kg with a payload of 1.2 kg, and Amazon’s latest design weighs about 38 kg with a payload of 2.2 kg. Thus, the results for very small package delivery do not reflect the energy and environmental savings for the typical home-delivery setting with heavier payloads and larger drones.

Source: Rodrigues, T. A., Patrikar, J., Oliveira, N. L., Matthews, H. S., Scherer, S., & Samaras, C. (2022). Drone flight data reveal energy and greenhouse gas emissions savings for very small package delivery. Patterns3(8), 100569.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *