Editorial Feature

Reducing Pollution with Drones

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A new study into the potential of use of delivery drones to reduce carbon emissions has been released by the University of Washington.

Drones are known to be more convenient than delivery trucks and are also more efficient. They are becoming more appealing to companies due to their potential for cost and time savings. However, researchers at the University of Washington have found that pollution reduction may not be one of the benefits these flying delivery drones can offer.

Contrary to widespread belief, if delivery drones were used instead of more traditional methods of transport, such as trucks, the estimated carbon emissions may actually increase.

Using Drones for Pollution Control

The university researchers came to this conclusion by weighing up the carbon emissions from delivery drones and trucks. They did this by using already created models that estimate truck pollution data that had been used previously to estimate the environmental impact for grocery delivery services.

This data was then compared to the carbon emissions associated with drone delivery systems. To calculate a drone’s energy requirements, the researchers modeled 10 hypothetical scenarios. These included different ‘payloads’ and each scenario assumed that the drone had to return to a central location after delivering each package. Furthermore, their models comprised of 330 service zones around Los Angeles and had up to 500 recipients in each of these zones. The energy requirements were calculated as watt-hours per mile.

Image Credit: Shutterstock/Flexey

By comparing both sets of data it became apparent that although the drones can reduce pollution, this only occurs if the drones use very light packages, such as small medicines or lightweight clothing and only over short distances. Increasing the weight of the payload or increasing the distance that the drones have to fly for the delivery increases the energy needed to fuel the drone and therefore increases the carbon emissions. In these circumstances, traditional delivery trucks are more energy efficient.

Drones vs. Delivery Trucks

Flight is so much more energy-intensive — getting yourself airborne takes a huge amount of effort. So I initially thought there was no way drones could compete with trucks on carbon dioxide emissions. In the end, I was amazed at how energy-efficient drones are in some contexts. Trucks compete better on heavier loads, but for really light packages, drones are awesome.

Anne Goodchild, Professor of civil and environmental engineering and Lead author of the research paper, University of Washington

The study found that trucks are more environmentally friendly that drones because they have the ability to carry large loads, such as furniture, as well as numerous packages within a single trip. This study showed that, as long as the route has multiple stops or is a long haul delivery, then the trucks emit less pollution. However, a drone may be considered more suitable over short distances or if there is inadequate infrastructure for delivery trucks.

Given what we found, probably the most realistic scenario is for drones doing the last leg of the delivery. You're probably not going to see these in downtown Seattle anytime soon. But maybe in a rural community with roads that are slow and hard for trucks to navigate and no air space or noise concerns.

Anne Goodchild, Professor of civil and environmental engineering and Lead author of the research paper, University of Washington

This story is reprinted from material from New Atlas, with editorial changes made by Azo Network. The original article can be found here.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.


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