Saturday, January 25, 2014

A New Age for Freight and Logistics - or a Licence to Kill

Sorry to drone on but................
Shipping News Feature

US – NETHERLANDS – WORLDWIDE – Drones – the latest buzz word in the logistics supply chain, but with their minimal cargo capacity, major safety and security issues and the thought that, if FAA approved, there might be thousands of these things flying about our cities, more problems are certain to arise. We have touched on the tests currently being undertaken in the US, Australia, China and elsewhere, and the fact that serious studies have been approved, but now we have heard this week from two parties who could not be more diametrically opposed to the flying bedsteads than is possible, one of whom has taken our comments regarding shooting them down rather seriously.

First the pro camp, commissioned by Qimarox, a Netherlands based manufacturer of palletisers, vertical conveyors and components for material handling systems, Emulate3D Inc. which models industrial product simulation, has come up with a video (here) envisaging drones palletising goods. Apart from the fact it presents a pretty vision of the technique and experienced freight forwarder will point out the obvious flaws with the system i.e. the drones illustrated are equipped with multiple large propellers, essential to offer sufficient lift, but which extend far beyond the edges of the loads carried.

To load a pallet with such equipment will either mean it will be necessary to restack the goods by hand, thus nullifying the point of the exercise, or load using a sort of ‘bombing run’ technique, dropping the item onto the pallet from a height so as to avoid the propellers hitting the adjacent cargo. The technical difficulties of using drones might face a much more serious threat if Phil Steel, a resident of Deer Trail, Colorado ‘Home of the World’s First Rodeo’, gets his way.

By all accounts US veteran Phil isn’t too keen on drones appearing in his town’s airspace, not that any ever have up to now. In a self-confessed ‘Act of Sedition’ the Stetson wearing Mr Steel has written a 2,800 word ordinance which he submitted for local approval set to allow any of Deer Trails 520+ residents to gun down unmanned craft that bothered them.

This would be taken as a light hearted prank, except for the fact that Phil Steel had decided that it was time to make a stand against ‘the federal government, corporations and drug dealers’ and was persuasive enough to get 50% of the town trustee’s to agree with his proposal that possession of a $25 drone licence would give anyone the right to fire up to three rounds in Deer Trail airspace provided it was beneath 1,000 feet at the time.

The split vote meant there will be a town referendum in April to decide the matter, having been put back from December by the local Court, with some residents supportive and others describing the would be legislator ‘crazy’, this of a man who once had his front door broken down by a SWAT team equipped with a bomb robot after he was suspected of sabotaging a workmates telephone with mercury (the case folded after no evidence was found). Phil Steel admits he holds no warm feelings to the authorities and referred to Amazons recent tests saying:

"To tell the truth, when I wrote the ordinance, there was an element of payback, I have declared the sovereignty and the supremacy of the airspace of my town, this is an act of sedition, and I proudly state that. You think they [Amazon] are the only ones? There will be millions of these, which drones are being flown by drug dealers? Burglars who want to case neighbourhoods? If you can also deliver a pizza, you can deliver a bomb, anywhere, at a crowded football stadium, at the Boston Marathon."

Without waiting for the April vote Phil Steel has already started cashing in on his idea and is selling ‘licences’ on the internet at $25 each and a whole industry of clothing and other gimmicks has sprung up since Phil first proposed the measure. Like airships before them there may well be a use for these devices but the likelihood is that, unless there are major technical and technological developments, as a delivery system there will always only be a niche part of the supply chain for these pilotless craft, and if Phil Steel gets his way they may just become a new sport for hunters.