RAND Corporation’s, a research organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges, report, “What’s the Buzz? The City-Scale Impacts of Drone Delivery,” deals with city package deliveries using drones. The research used mathematical models to assess the impact of drone deliveries on energy consumption, infrastructure requirements, aerial congestion, privacy and noise. However, the research did not address how weather could affect drone delivery logistics, but the logistics industry has a lot more immediate challenges to overcome before getting to the issue of weather.

Some of the interesting findings in the report include:

  • The lack of precedent for large-scale delivery and the proprietary nature of both the aircraft designs and the business models increase the challenges that policymakers face in gaining that understanding, but simple mathematical models can help fill in the gaps.
    • If policymakers use simple mathematical models, they can address questions about how much energy drone deliveries will consume compared to truck deliveries, how much infrastructure would be required to implement drone delivery into the national airspace, and how infrastructure choices would affect other outcomes; how much aerial congestion will occur; privacy implications of drone delivery; and how much additional noise would drone contribute (or better yet, would their use reduce traffic noise).
  • Increasing the percentage of packages delivered by drone can increase the energy consumed per package delivered substantially –by up to an order of magnitude in some cases. The reason for this is that for large cities, the drones have to repeatedly fly relatively long distances, whereas trucks can drive that distance once and then deliver many packages within a smaller region.
    • However, in the short term, trucks will be primarily gas-powered and drones are more likely to be electric-powered (or use renewable sources of energy) so package delivery by drone would actually cut down on some of the more costly and harmful sources of energy.
  • There are a wide range of expected positive effects of drone delivery, including economic benefits, convenience, and delivery of time-critical goods and services to difficult-to-reach places.
    • But there are also potential negative effects like aerial congestion, privacy, noise, and air pollution.

For more details, read the full report here. And as more companies dive into the drone delivery business, policymakers will surely explore and address these and other issues with drone integration into the national airspace. This area has been advancing rapidly and we are sure to see more policy in this area.