Trend Analysis: How Run-Down Bridges Will Speed the Emergence of Drones
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Quietly, the drone buzzes to the peak, bringing the hiker some equipment, a bottle of beer, or the next book in the "Hunger Games" trilogy. Images like this have been used to sketch the everyday use of drones since Amazon announced its version of the emerging tech. For now, however, the courier on the highway with his zippy compact car is much faster, his range is much greater, and his delivery vehicle is cheaper to acquire than a professional drone. And what makes an afternoon hike more pleasant is far from a viable business model and - even more importantly - is no incentive for developers, producers, or commerce to invest in launching larger and more powerful drones on the market. Despite this, however, drones will soon become an indispensable part of the value chain in logistics. Read today's trend analysis to discover which business models will advance the development of drones, what tomorrow's drones will look like, and why they will win through.
The public fascination with drones is undoubtedly considerable. Drones promise the remote-controlled, automated delivery of goods in industry and private life, as well as entirely new production methods and processes. But - and this "but" will always be there - don't they remain too weak and wear out too quickly? Aren't they too loud for residential areas, and won't they always end up being used to spy on the neighbors? The drone gets grounded there - and the discussion as well - but the real point is lost as well.
Current discussions about the development and use of drones tend to completely miss the technology's true potential. The drones on the market today are good for, maybe, certifying the structural integrity of wind turbines without the need to employ industrial climbers.
Drones can carry cameras and use them to chart landscapes and images from disaster areas - as long as the batteries last. And as long as your neighbor doesn't complain (see above). Those who are now waiting for drones to basically keep getting bigger and more powerful until they become an improved version of cargo trucks also needs patience to wait for new power lines, airports, and rail tunnels. A lot of patience. An analysis of the drivers and business models here shows that, by that time, the development of drones will long have taken a different direction.
The lack of public infrastructure
One predictable driver of the development is a key shortage, namely a shortage of future-proof infrastructure, e.g., here in Germany. The most striking example: bridges. Today we know that many of Germany's bridges are defunct. Of the tens of thousands of bridges in municipal hands alone, every seventh one is irreparably damaged and can only be rebuilt or demolished. We also know: By 2030, at most half of these projects will be completed. And things aren't much better for many rail bridges. The logistics industry will have to consider the prospect that hordes of streets will become closed for heavy transport - and that with no advance notice. The result: detours, delays, service interruptions - and the logistics expert who is able to overcome the river, the stretch of railway, or the valley in another way, on its own power, will have a decisive advantage when the delivery truck is prohibited from driving over the bridge from one day to the next.
For years now, the logistics sector has invested in service depth and in the integration of its solutions into the processes of its customers in order to differentiate itself and to offer added value to the customer. Simple transport seemed exhausted, standardized, replaceable. But the field is bursting again. The unbroken connection between two points will soon be added value once more.
The provider who can carry goods across the Elbe even after the most important bridges are blocked possesses a solid foundation for tomorrow's business models. Here, for example, drones are already superior to ferries. And what's more: Their supposed weaknesses are of no importance here. Short range? No problem. Flight safety? Easy to regulate in the already blocked area of the riverbanks. Battery life? Systems with replacement batteries have been market ready for some time now and, in doubt, the backup drone can help.
As soon as the first logistics providers begin buying loading areas straddling the rivers in their home regions, this is a sure sign that the experts no longer trust the stability of the bridges there. If that's on your way to work, start looking for another route! Stress analysts and real estate agents will have some lucrative partnership options here. Forward-looking municipalities adjust their growth and settlement policies sooner rather than later, and will orient these in line with this kind of gaps in infrastructure that state and national governments are failing to close. The early designation of loading stations and drone flight paths is wise communal location policy.
Of course, this means noteworthy investments for logistics providers. This is the Suez Canal principle. Of course no ship owner is forced to pay € 300.000 oneway to make the crossing. But the route around Africa is not feasible. This is why it makes sense for the state of Egypt to invest in the considerable extension of the Suez Canal and to capitalize on the shorter route. In precisely this manner, logistics providers in Europe will step forward to close these gaps in public infrastructure using private solutions, be it for their own vehicles or as the exclusive provider for selected partners. An additional plus here: The expansion of private infrastructure is not dependent on the investment planning and project management of the public sector.
We are on the way to a scalable and adaptive infrastructure capable of flexibly adapting to constantly shifting requirements. The concept "bridge" will become adaptive. This is also a driver for drone producers to work on solving load capacity - currently the major outstanding problem for today's drones - be it through further increases or, more probably, through multi-drone solutions. In the medium term, the integration of drones as a stop-gap for fragmentary infrastructure will prove to be a real step forward.
How drones will increase refrigerator size
The second area where lucrative business models will drive the development of drones is in the future of the smart home. Beginning in urban areas, drones will make the delivery of very small quantities over short distances a possibility. The supermarket cooling shelf, therefore, will serve to expand the refrigerator at home.
The first scenario is not far off: fridge and smartphone will communicate what staple products have run out. The user then places a 1-click order with his deli- very service of choice, and the supermarket then compiles the purchased products. The user's smartphone automatically informs the supermarket when its user arrives at home, and the drone is sent on its way.
In the next step, the refrigerator - or another object of the user's choice - will place the order itself. For the fridge will not only notice when the cheese is running out, but will estimate probable consumption, compare that with the upcoming trip, evaluate current offers from preferred supermarkets, and - this is where the drones come into play - purchase and order a delivery on its own. The user's smart home will autonomously learn from this behavior and adapt accordingly.
This will mean that the connected house of tomorrow will have, along with the cat flap, the drone flap, with a direct connection to the refrigerator and pantry. Supermarkets will cover the costs for their customers to install smart windows in order to give their drones unrestricted access.
Don't want a drone entrance? Then the supermarket will put the bags of groceries together and ask your smartphone where your car is parked. Your smartphone will provide the drone with the coordinates for your car and with the code for opening the trunk: trunk delivery. Sounds crazy? Several international automakers are already working on connecting automobile trunks in precisely this manner.
Here a division of labor will appear between self-driving cars and drones. Autonomous cars will come, and when they do, they will revolutionize industries and business models, naturally in logistics as well. Our description of the role that the self-driving cars of the future will have in the logistics sector has been described in a recent trend analysis which can be downloaded here.
This industry will capitalize on the two great unused potentials of today's autos: unused time and unused space. Autonomous cars will be integrated into supply chains during their off time. Using them, however, for a single carton of milk will simply be too expensive. Only when these micro-transports can also be automated and integrated into commercial processes will the supermarket become an expansion of the customer's refrigerator, an external utility room.
Similar potential will appear in the area of health care: the drone used by the pharmacy to deliver customers' daily medications - cooled and in the correct dosage. Especially in rural areas, this will be a necessary infrastructure for the emerging telemedicine.
Drones needed to make smart homes a reality
Companies from a great variety of industries are advancing the concept of the smart home: technology corporations, the software industry, heating, air conditioning, and plumbing providers, mobile phone giants. These are making it a possibility for consumers to adjust the lighting of their holiday home from a beach on the Mediterranean, and to check if the oven was really turned off ... while sitting in the movie theater. These features, however, are nothing more than an foretaste of the subject. The attraction of these kinds of gimmicks will quickly fade.
Long-term, the focus here is not about remote home management. The smart home will first capitalize on its strengths when its users are at home and the smart home proves to be the better everyday domicile. Customers in large numbers can first be convinced to disclose - in this case, to invest - their data when this proves to make life in connected homes more comfortable, easier, more pleasant, and less expensive.
This is the reason why we will come to see a cleaning drones in the kid's room. The dusting drone will share its tasks in the living room with the vacuum-cleaning robot just as, in the yard, the automatic lawn mower and the hedge-trimming drone will complete each other.
A driving role in development will also be played by delivery drones. Motivation for drone use is most directly visible here: When the purchase of groceries and goods for everyday life is more precisely adjusted to actual use and household expenses thus sink. When the personal carbon footprint melts away thanks to optimized supply. When daily stress thanks to the job, the kids, responsibilities, and the need for self-fulfillment sinks. Individual priorities will vary, but the effect remains the same: Smart homes will first become attractive for the mass market when the delivery of very small quantities is secured and integrated into the concept.
Small loads, short delivery routes, and modest ranges? This is a familiar theme, because these supposed limitations of today's drones will not carry any weight here, either.
Automated control, robust usage options, and the possibility of integration in complex order and supply chains are already a reality today, and will prove to be favorable starting conditions for drone technology. Only with this cornerstone in place will the smart home actually become attractive.
In this way, the supermarkets can reduce warehouse space, optimize their supply chains, and minimize losses in the planning and implementation of fresh food sales. A remarkable benefit for food retail, which has been a low-margin market for years. In addition to these direct consequences, the most important driver for the development of drones is a familiar face from the digital revolution: competition for direct contact to the customer.
The provider who succeeds in taking on the regular provision of customers with the items needed for everyday use will gain access to highly lucrative customer data, thus coming one important step closer to the invaluable goal of becoming the operating system for the lives of its customers. And from the customer's perspective here, it is irrelevant whether it's the refrigerator, the customer profile with the local supermarket operator, or the mobile provider that is driving, controlling, and connecting this development. The customer will decide for the company she trusts. And the customer who can't trust anyone will simply use her own drone here.
The way forward leads through, not around
But why should a supermarket corporation abandon established distribution and sales channels and bet on drones instead? The customers are used to shopping the aisles themselves on foot and taking care of the transport of the purchase themselves by car, by bike, or by shopping trolley anyway.
Much more probable is for those companies to start delivering groceries and daily items by drone that do not possess sales premises of their own. Spoken from their point of view, this means those companies that neither need them or are compelled to refinance them. The spectrum of players here ranges from digital pizza services to logistics giants like Amazon and Deutsche Post.
The open regulatory questions seem to be a hindrance here, no question about that. As long as drones can only be steered by sight, as long as flyover rights in the private sector have not been negotiated, and - according to the statements of major corporations - the insurance and liability questions are easily resolvable, but not yet resolved, hurdles for the widespread use of drones will remain. They are, however, strictly temporary hurdles.
Our expectation is that, despite all of these open regulatory concerns, the two use cases cited here alone - private-public infrastructure as a business case and the sweeping realization of smart homes as a route to a direct relation to the customer - have the potential of moving drones to common use and giving drone manufacturers incentives for making their drones smarter and more robust. This critical mass justifies the development of high-performance drones which, in turn, also have the potential of being the superior option in further logistics segments. For that reason, the road through the coming years will lead not around the use of drones, but through it.