The concept of unmanned aerial devices is thought to have first been explored in the mid 1800s wartime when balloons were flown above enemy cities to facilitate bombings. Since then, drones have developed along with available technology to have value in several other areas. In transportation especially, drones have proven to be extremely useful in aiding operations. Drones can be used to lift weights of up to 8kg and travel about 10-15km. By 2028, the Drone and Logistics industry is expected to exceed $30bn in value and much focus is being placed on the potentials of drone use in transportation. Robots are also being widely adapted for use in these industries. Automation of operations is fast becoming a possibility in the transportation sector as it has been in other areas such as manufacturing and agriculture.
Present Roles of Drones in Transportation
Currently, drones and robots have several applications for use in transportation and logistics. Operators employ the use of drones in monitoring transportation equipment as well as in actual delivery. Other examples of areas where drones contribute are outlined below:
Cargo Inspection: Cameras on drones are used to scan codes and identify shipments, machinery and other materials. They are also employed in inspection of hard-to-reach areas of cargo to ensure proper placement.
Essential Supplies Delivery: The transportation of goods with drones has been explored recently by delivery companies. There are further attempts at extending this to the delivery of essential goods such as medical supplies to remote and rural areas.
Construction: Drones have also been used to optimize transportation development as they are important in visualization of terrain and 3-D analysis of construction areas. They are also applied in taking accurate measurements and monitoring of projects.
Traffic Monitoring: Drones are used in monitoring of traffic flow and traffic control. Collection and analysis of data from cities is central to determining traffic needs and improving the conditions for public transportation.
Cargo Loading: Robotic arms designed to recognize and move objects have been useful in transporting materials. By using specialized imaging, robots can suggest the most efficient loading patterns and systems and implement them in such a way to save time and reduce shipping errors.
Inspection Checks: Robotic technology has recently been used in automated systems for monitoring and detecting road damage. In line with this, companies are developing robots which can quickly fix potholes before they become more dangerous and improve road efficiency.
Future Roles of Drones in Transportation
Drones appear attractive for further development and integration into transportation for various reasons. They are considered to be more environmentally friendly and will possibly be a better alternative to traditional vehicles used to today. In addition, it is possible that adaptation and use of drones in wider areas will contribute to saving time in transportation and logistics. Several possible options for the use of drones have been considered beyond the present options:
Air Taxis: Although drones can presently carry only smaller weights, test flights have been conducted using unmanned vehicles carrying 1-5 passengers across distances of 25-100km. The possibility of such vehicles being used as air taxis is being explored by transportation companies and it is predicted that they may become economically possible by 2030
Automated Piloting: Self driving cars are expected to eventually become mainstream and widely used to transport people and goods. Large companies are also looking to completely automate other transport systems including ships and planes. These require application of robotics technology to facilitate adaptation to various conditions.
Construction: Robotics is expected to gain traction in the field of transportation engineering with potential use in excavation and surveying of difficult to reach areas during road construction. For the purpose of investing in sustainable transportation such as rail travel, robots can also be employed during tunnel construction and other activities.
Environment Friendly: Drones and robots provide new options for transportation which are environmentally conservative and may become more economically viable with further research. It is advisable for governments and private institutions to however commit to ensuring safety and sustainability of these options in order to advance automation in transport.