Drone Technology: Are drones a sensible alternative for use in logistics?

Are drones a sensible alternative for use in logistics? In our discussion with Jean-Thomas Célette, Managing Director of senseFly, we learn where the technology stands today and what realistic possibilities he sees for the use of drones in the medium and long term.

Von: Armin Rainer  DruckenTeilen 

Armin Rainer

Armin Rainer ist Partner von Weissman Italia und Austria und begleitet Familienunterneh­men in ihrer kulturellen, strate­gischen und organisatorischen Ausrichtung.

Drone Technology

An interview with Jean-Thomas Célette, managing director of senseFly

Where is the development of drones today and in which areas can drones already be used reliably?

The development of drones began in the late nineties, primarily for military use. Even today, military use is still the most widely used application for drones by market size. The second largest is private use, where drones are used by consumers for personal photography and videography; two areas that have been growing steadily over the last fi ve or six years.

One application that has gained particular traction in recent years is professional drone use, and this is a market that will continue to grow rapidly as the commercial benefi ts become more widely understood. Examples of professional drone applications include:

  • large area video and photo shoots, e.g. real estate, weddings and events or the fi lm industry
  • geographic measurements and mapping, often as a more cost-effective alternative to airplanes, satellites or point-to-point measuring
  • in agriculture to optimise the treatment of plants, soil and to increase yield
  • maintenance and inspection of infrastructures that are difficult to access, such as bridges and wind turbines
  • major construction projects
  • environmental or disaster assessments
  • public safety, e.g. search and rescue efforts

The market for private use is strongly consolidated, however there is still significant growth potential in the professional drone market. There are a wide range of suppliers, from drone manufacturers to software companies, that are helping to create an integrated, end-to-end user experience through their data collection and analysis solutions, as well as service providers that are offering drone services to consumers/clients. Many large organisations are also enlisting the use of drones from third parties and commonly integrate this service into their own business processes as a way to optimise operations and workflow.

What possibilities do you see for the use of drones in the logistics sector in the short, medium and long term?

Logistics it isn’t just a matter of delivering packaged goods with drones; the scope of the applications are much more complex. If you look at the entire logistics process chain, there are many uses for drone deployment. For example, drones could be used to control activities in the mining industry or to locate lost containers for shipping companies. For intralogistics, drones can be used for warehousing and material management.

Transporting goods and items from A to B, for instance, is a key consideration for most logistics professionals and, in principle, using drones for that sounds like the next big thing for the industrial revolution. However, there are still some practical and economical hurdles that need to be addressed. To transport a variety of goods from A to B, large drones that weigh far greater than what they are transporting are needed. Range also remains limited and factors such as weather, battery life and, in particular, safety regulations must also be taken into account. As such, drones are not currently the most cost-effective option for professionals
in the logistics sector to ship goods from a warehouse to a consignee that is tens of kilometers away. There is, however, potential for drones to be used effectively in the last mile of goods transportation – this last mile usually accounts for over half the total cost of delivery, and drones may help to deliver the desired results. For example: in combination with a moving truck that dispatches the drones for final delivery.

What are the biggest opportunities for a logistics company and what are the biggest risks when using drones?

Drones will certainly always be used in niches. A great example of this are projects in sub-Saharan Africa, where drones are improving healthcare by transporting medicine, blood and other essential items. That makes sense because the infrastructure in areas of Africa remains precarious and travel takes a lot of time. I also see numerous opportunities in the mining industry and for warehouse monitoring and surveillance. There are, however, various risks that need to be considered, although these depend strongly on the use case. If you just fly over your own warehouse, it’s easy to manage. But when we talk about taking over the last mile of a delivery or flying over public areas, it’s important to ensure appropriate risk assessment measures are taken to deliver optimal operations, equipment maintenance and safety.

What new skills and capabilities does a company need when using drones?

That depends a lot on the industry. But in general, drone pilot licenses and specific authorisations may be required to ensure companies are adhering to the relevant regulatory requirements. From a technical point of view, the appropriate training must be provided for the employees whose role it is to operate a drone. The most important task for a company is to clearly analyse how the drone can be integrated into the work processes and how the data can be optimally used. Drones can also be combined with other technologies to utilise their full potential. For example: the use of machine learning to autonomously identify lost containers of shipping companies. In order to determine the maximum potential
for the use of drones in your own use case and to integrate the processes accordingly, in-depth knowledge about how drones work and how to best employ the technology for your business and operations is essential. 

Which legal framework conditions exist today? What has to change in order to enable the use of drones in logistics and other industries in the best possible way?

The regulatory framework for drones in logistics is still evolving. Legislation is different in each country, although steps are taken for greater standardisation. For example, in Europe, there are many factors that play a role but that are not yet taken into account in some of the legislation, such as assessing the danger that a drone poses based on its weight and the materials it is made of.

The second aspect is the acceptance of drones in society. Recent cases of drones blocking air traffic have, of course, caused negative press. Significant commitment from governments
to work on clear legislation in close cooperation with drone manufacturers and service providers is essential to accelerate wider acceptance and subsequent adoption. It is also very
important that there are the same regulations throughout Europe so that drones can be used everywhere according to the same specifications. Anything else would create complexity and would risk slowing down the development of drone technology.

Dieses Interview stammt aus dem Print-Newsletter «Mein Unternehmen»

Jean-Thomas Célette, Managing Director, is responsible for senseFly’s product roadmap and overseas the company’s R&D, customer experience and operational functions. Prior to joining senseFly, Jean-Thomas Célette was a director at PwC Strategy’s Zurich offi ce, and has helped large technology companies launch new businesses, develop sustainable growth strategies and optimize their processes. He has also advised large industrial companies and governments on technology and digital strategy. Jean- Thomas Célette holds a Master’s degree in Computer Science and obtained his MBA from INSEAD.

At senseFly we believe in using technology to make work safer and more efficient. Our proven drone solutions simplify the collection and analysis of geospatial data, allowing professionals in surveying, agriculture, engineering and humanitarian aid to make better decisions, faster. Founded in 2009, senseFly is the commercial drone subsidiary of Parrot Group. For more information, go to www.sensefly.com.


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