The logistics of drones - a vision for the future of transport

30 May 2018

by Charlie Johnson-Ferguson, UK transport and logistics leader

According to new research from PwC, delivery drones could become business as usual in the UK by 2030.

Crucially, growing adoption of drone technology across the transport and logistics sector could drive a GDP boost of £1.2bn and, with an uplift in productivity, net the sector cost savings in the region of £2.8bn over the same period.

These are significant figures that shouldn’t be ignored - even though current statistics would suggest that for some, unmanned aerial vehicles are seen as more of a toy or experiment than a cost-effective tool.

From my perspective, the impact of autonomous vehicle technology on the transport and logistics sector has simply not yet begun to be felt.

While more than 76,000 drones are expected to take to UK skies over the next 12 years, it appears that as many as 11,000 could be employed in the transport and logistics sector alone.

Uses could range from airlines using drones to inspect aircraft for damage to logistics providers using this technology to deliver in areas that are hard to reach. Large retail and logistics companies are already beginning to invest in delivery drones with the aim of achieving increased efficiency, lower costs, and increased customer satisfaction.

The scope of delivery drones could also be beyond dropping off parcels in the ‘last mile’ of client logistics. Drones will be ubiquitous in warehousing and able to autonomously conduct real time stock checks by scanning inventory. This will integrate seamlessly with other ground-based autonomous warehouse robotics in an end-to-end management and movement of inventory driven by AI with no human touch.

Delivery drones could also integrate with other advances in technology, for example a driverless vehicle, loaded with parcels by robotics at the warehouse that automatically dispatches multiple delivery drones when it nears the most efficient point to complete its deliveries.

Such a vehicle would serve as a base station for the drones providing charging and payload swapping as required. This scenario is some way off, as current technical and regulatory challenges remain such as flying pilotless and beyond visual line of site (BVLOS) in congested urban areas and integrating with other airspace users.

As businesses gain experience with this technology, we expect to see a swift shift in adoption across other areas in this sector. As a result, we are likely to see more evidence of the accumulation of drone collected data across wider programmes and tighter integration with other sources of management data. And by automating routine tasks, improving effectiveness, safety and reducing costs, drones will free up people to focus on higher-value work.

In order to realise the full potential from drones, the immediate focus must be on developing confidence in the technology among businesses, boards, investors and wider society to help drive acceptance and increase adoption.

By combining this emerging technology with the right business understanding and human insight there is a huge opportunity to help solve some of business and society’s most important problems.

To learn more about our drones research, visit our website -