Transforming Rural Logistics with UAVs
Ethical considerations and the legalities centering around drone usage, and the costs involved in flying them also raise question marks on the scalability of UAVs in any market.
Photo Credit : mfgtalkradio.com/tag/drones/,
Nothing epitomises diversity as much as India does, from its diverse set of creeds to cultures to terrains, knitted together under one roof. This has led to the need of tailoring services for different sections of the Indian society. More than 65% of our population lives in rural areas and 138 million of them are well versed with the usage of smartphones and computers, and yet, they represent a good chunk of the untapped market.
Comprehensive market coverage requires tapping of this amazing opportunity, and that takes logistics! The scope of logistics in rural areas is doubly disadvantaged: low volumes that are characterised by high transportation costs, and the requirement of non-standard infrastructure tailored to inconsistent geographic terrains, like hilly areas or island deliveries. In the event of an emergency like an epidemic outbreak or disaster, supply will have a hard time finding its way to affected locations at the earliest. These factors place rural locations on the priority list for adaptation to Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) networks.
The global UAV market is projected to increase to $21.23 billion by 2022, of which the commercial segment would account for $2.07 billion. Companies like Amazon aim to initiate drone delivery, starting in terrains that are challenging for trucks, trivial for helicopters, and far off for people on foot or cars. UAVs can alleviate first and last-mile rural delivery problems, while improving coverage and savings. Delivering to customers directly and efficiently may not be within the purview of a drone yet, but it can transport goods between depots.
In the past few years, UAVs have made their way to being used for aerial surveillance of crops, precision agriculture, and targeted pesticide spraying. African countries, like Madagascar, employ drones to deliver emergency medical supplies and equipment to remote areas. However, the potential of drone applications in the rural sector in India, where they can be used more widely for similar applications, remains largely unexplored. The map data of rural India is poorly detailed, owing to the lack of internet and even phone connectivity in many areas. Satellite images, if available, are not updated regularly and do not reflect ground realities. In such cases, drones offer a geo-referencing solution with aerial and 3D mapping. Location intelligence like geocoding can be embedded into the UAVs for these operations, as efficient logistics necessitate efficient mapping.
e-Commerce companies face a number of operational hurdles in rural areas—given the poor infrastructure and fluctuating demand. This could be attributed to why a lot of pin-codes are marked unavailable for delivery on marketplaces like Flipkart and Amazon. And even when they are available, the costs to the company are on the higher side. There are around 1,55,000 post offices in India that are now performing the delivery of goods to customers in these remote areas. Connecting said locations through UAV delivery networks could enable their participation in the global economy, and increase reach with more frequent supply of critical goods, like pharmaceuticals, on demand.
Challenges remain in the feasibility of UAV technology in rural areas with limited networks and connectivity. Drones work by calibrating the GPS coordinates of the pickup and drop points, using internal compasses. With route calibration, even over aerial distances, drones could chart the fastest routes with affordable connectivity, so that they stay afloat without malfunctioning. What also makes route planning vital is the limited amount of battery life within UAVs. This issue can be likened to the use of fuel by a delivery truck. More efficient the usage, the better. Also, once routes are pre-charted, the need for a controller is eliminated. Auto-flights enhance speed and can perform real-time route optimization on the go. And this would not be possible without a well-trained geocoding software.
Ethical considerations and the legalities centering around drone usage, and the costs involved in flying them also raise question marks on the scalability of UAVs in any market. Despite these roadblocks, a complete rework of the way we view logistics may be on the horizon and we should be prepared to take advantage of it. An overlooked aspect of using delivery drones in geographically disadvantaged locations is the resulting customer experience. Reaching out to these customers enables them to be a part of the larger economy, and would not make them feel that the location of their homes is a disadvantage.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house
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