Drone flight data reveal energy and GHG emissions savings for tiny parcel delivery

Uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) for last-mile deliveries will affect the energy productivity of delivery and require new methods to understand energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Researchers have combined empirical testing of 188 quadcopter flights across a range of speeds with a first-principles analysis to develop a usable energy model and a machine-learning algorithm to assess energy across takeoff, cruise, and landing. Their model shows that an electric drone with a tiny parcel (0.5 kg) would consume approximately 0.08 MJ/km and result in 70 g of CO2e per parcel in the United States.

The researchers compare drone delivery with other vehicles and calculate that energy per parcel delivered by drones (0.33 MJ/package) can be up to 94% lower than with medium-duty diesel trucks, with only electric cargo bicycles providing lower GHG. Compared to electric light commercial vehicles, the savings are 50%. The open model and coefficients can assist stakeholders in understanding and improving the sustainability of small parcel delivery.

The research also shows that a medium-duty diesel truck would require approximately 34 packages per km to meet the drone’s performance which would correspond to having 200 parcels delivered in a route of less than 6 km. On the other hand, a small electric van would require a delivery intensity of approximately five parcels per km or a 39-km route to deliver 200 packages, which could be achieved in dense urban centers.

The average parcel in Europe weighs 3 kg. It would be interesting to see real-life results for actual parcel sizes and weight. It’s a fascinating study that looks at the impact of drones on energy consumption and GHG emissions. And nice material for our students!

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

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