There’s always been talk about how drones could improve the emissions situation produced by our truck-based delivery infrastructure. But you have to look into these things. A new study from University of Washington researchers indicates that drone delivery may indeed lead to a lower carbon footprint — if it’s done properly.
“I was amazed at how energy-efficient drones are in some contexts,” said Anne Goodchild, who led the research, in a UW news release. “Trucks compete better on heavier loads, but for really light packages, drones are awesome.”
Her study examined the theoretical energy costs of a number of delivery scenarios in the Los Angeles area. Drones, as they are today, can only carry one item at a time, but they can fly over traffic in efficient straight lines. When was this style more efficient than a truck with dozens or hundreds of packages?
According to the researchers’ analysis, drones are more efficient for pretty much anything up to a mile away, and depending on the number of stops, considerably farther. Scenarios with lots of stops in one place, like a major office building, don’t make much sense for drones — but going a mile out of your way to deliver to a farmhouse is equally nonsensical for a heavy truck.