The military and the government have been mostly at the forefront of using drones so far. But its commercial application is also rising. Many big companies of the likes of Google, Amazon, UPS, and Deutsche Post DHL are leveraging drones to deliver commercial packages and a team of scientists are now seeing if it is more feasible than conventional overnight package delivery when it comes to impact on the environment.

Comparative Tests to Find Results

In order to find that out, they conducted tests using two commercial drones to find out the energy required to deliver packages under different circumstances. They also factored in bettering drone design and battery technology over the course of time. Then they leveraged what is known as Life Cycle Assessment to do a comparative study of the drone scenarios with that of a delivery van, truck, and passenger car. It is a technique that studies upstream impacts such as emissions caused in the manufacture of batteries or in refining diesel fuel into oil.

The team of researchers uncovered that existing practical range of multi-copter drones comes to around 4 kilometers, which means a new network of urban waystations and warehouses required to support the entire delivery system. Running it would also need energy, despite drones consuming less energy per package-mile in comparison to delivery trucks.

The extra warehouse energy needed and the greater distances traveled by drones per package greatly ups the life-cycle impacts.

In all, the results were mixed.