Document delivery drones

A particular pain point in shipping is that vessels need specific documents delivered to ports before they arrive. Unmanned drones can be sent to ships ahead of arrival to retrieve documents and return to the port. This work is currently done by launch boats that average $1.5k per hire. Drones could offer savings to the industry in the magnitude of $675mn per year.[1]

Last year 200.000 commercial drones were sold, and by 2022 the total market value is estimated to be $11.2bn.[2] Standard commercial drones can carry up to 18kg and fly as far as 8km.[3,4] It is already possible to program drones to fly and land accurately from one point to another using signal beacons or GPS coordinates.

Ongoing challenges for drones include communication interruptions and intermittent weather. Other open questions include drone registration and zoning restrictions, as well as security against hackers.

When will it become an accepted practice that drones deliver documents to ports ahead of arrival?

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[1] Johansen, M. (2017), Are drones a game changer for last mile deliveries?
[2] PR Newswire (2018), $29.06 Billion Drone Logistics and Transportation Market - Global Forecast to 2027
[3] Flynt, J. (2017), How much weight can a drone carry?
[4] Flynt, J. (2019), 13 Best Long Range Drones of 2019

By Matthew J. Spaniol