Lead Forensics

Warehouse drones unlikely to replace human workers

Several companies are researching the use of drones in the warehouse, but the obstacles to their use make it unlikely that they will replace human workers.

According to Lynn Parnell of Logistics Partners Consultancy, there are benefits and challenges of using drones. Among the positive benefits are that they can pick items from high areas that are not safe for humans to reach, they can be integrated with warehouse management systems to make picking items accurate and quick and they are inexpensive to operate.

However, there are many obstacles that mean drones are unlikely to replace humans entirely. Drones are incapable of carrying heavy loads, their batteries limit flying times and there is a danger of collisions with people or vehicles, unless the drones have advanced collision detection systems.

A warehouse equipment supplier sells picking trolleys and packing tables to process customer orders, but it is unlikely that such suppliers would sell drones in the future. Drones could, however, be used to supplement humans. They are effective for picking high items and for counting inventory. They could also have a role in safety inspections of warehouse shelving.

There have been several trials of drones used to deliver small packages. Currently, all UK drones must be controlled by licensed operators who must have a drone in their line of sight at all times. The regulations would need to change to allow remote delivery drones to operate.

A drone picking a boxed item and then immediately delivering it to a customer is not yet practical, but this could change in the future.

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