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Drone management: The next frontier

Colin Neagle | Dec. 16, 2014
Once commercial drones start filling the skies, how will they be managed?

A potentially game-changing dynamic for the drone network one which has been nonexistent in the cutthroat competition between Uber and Lyft is cooperation between the companies using the drones. Steve Banker, service director for supply chain management at analyst and consulting company ARC Advisory Group, wrote in a Forbes article responding to Bezos's 60 Minutes interview last year that "to achieve higher volumes [of deliveries], multiparty retailer/courier collaboration would be very helpful." Banker's article pointed to optimization tools that can forecast delivery routes for drones and process data in real time to create a more efficient route. These tools open all kinds of possibilities, from cheaper delivery to flexible pricing. But they all require an open drone ecosystem that maximizes access for every organization that needs them.

"If the courier company can flex and add new couriers that use their own vehicles, then demand spikes can be easily accommodated," Banker wrote. "However, if there are transportation capacity issues (the number of delivery vehicles is static), variable delivery fees can be used to shape demand fulfillment. In effect, a buyer is told if we can deliver between 3 and 4 pm, the cost is $5, if you want it between 6 and 7 pm, the fee will be $25."

Ganzarski also suggested drone sharing to supplement optimization techniques. Different organizations using similar drones could use them more efficiently if they were open to sharing information, if not sharing drones themselves. As an example, Ganzarski mentioned the U.S. Forest Service, which actually explored drones to monitor wildfires before FAA restrictions forced it to shelve the plan, as the kind of organization that could find itself sharing data and even hardware to get better use out of drones.

"Since we know where the Amazon drones or the Google drones [are], as an example, then if there is a fire, we can optimize the use of the Amazon drones to deliver packages differently, and use some of those drones as an emergency need for the forestry service to look at where the fires are," he says.

This same kind of collaboration could be applied among drones used to deliver packages ordered on Amazon or Google and delivered by couriers, some of which have expressed interest in drone delivery, to ensure the most efficient delivery time. As long as deliveries are made, it doesn't necessarily matter who owns the vehicles that carried them out.

The impending drone ecosystem presents a big opportunity for a lot of organizations. Those that use the data to manage the drone network more effectively just might be the ones to capitalize on it.

"It's really not all about saying 'what's the empty drone?' It's not about which is the closest drone," Ganzarski  says. "It's all about which is the right drone with the right operator for the right mission given everything that's going on right now."

 

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