Container stacking drones

Due to the imbalances in trade flows, 24% of shipping containers - amounting to 200 million of them - are empty.[1,2,3] Yet they still need to be moved around, and this is expensive and time-consuming, with the shipping companies spending up to $12bn annually on repositioning empty containers alone.[4,5,6]

Heavy lifting drones, capable of lifting empty containers weighing 2000kg, could operate concurrently alongside cranes in ports to lift and stage empty containers, reducing crane movements and making port operations more efficient.[4]  By 2019, heavy lifting drones were capable of carrying a payload of 200kg over 40km, with drone concepts under development targeting 1500kg.[7, 8]

Safety considerations, such as emergency response procedures and adequate worker protection would need to be developed. Container-moving drones could reduce the need for human personnel and tractors working on the ground at the port, and they could be controlled out of towers or crane cockpits.

When will it become accepted practice that heavy lifting drones are performing container movements in terminals?

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[1] Bombadier, C. (2016), A drone to move shipping containers including homes
[2] Cognitive Seeds (2018), Cargo Drones
[3] Scerra, M. (2020), Container throughput worldwide from 2012 to 2019 with a forecast for 2020 and 2021 (in million TEUs)]
[4] Rodrigue J. (2020), Port economics, management and policy
[5] Sanders, U., Riedle, J., Kloppsteck, L., Roeloffs, C. & Schlingmeier, J. (2015), Think out side your Boxes: Solving the Global container-Repositing puzzle. 
[6] Kristiansen, T. (2015), Empty containers cost Maersk Line USD 1 billion a year
[8] Urban Aeronautics (2020), Falon XP

By Matthew J. Spaniol