The use of drones to deliver commercial packages could help save energy and emissions.
A new study shows drone-based delivery could reduce both greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption in the transportation sector.
Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Carnegie Mellon University, SRI International and the University of Colorado at Boulder conducted tests with two commercial drones and developed an estimate of the energy needed to deliver a package in various scenarios.
They found within a four-kilometre range of current battery-driven delivery drones, the airborne devices consumed less energy per package and per kilometre than trucks for light deliveries of 0.5kg.
The research suggests certain items can be delivered faster with less environmental impacts than trucks – the transport sector accounts for around a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions.
It adds while drones can’t displace road deliveries, especially for bigger items currently, larger drones can be made more efficient than trucks and vans.
Joshua Stolaroff, LLNL Scientist and Lead Author of the report said: “Charging drones only with renewable and low carbon electricity would be the easiest way. They also might find creative ways to deliver goods from existing retail stores rather than building additional warehouses. The bottom line is to pay attention to life-cycle impacts when designing both the drone and logistics network.”
The researchers recommend regulators and businesses looking to get an environmental benefit from drones to consider the systemwide impacts and focus their efforts on small packages and leave larger ones for trucks and vans for now.