Skip to main content

A little more than a year ago, Audi created a parody of transport drones in the sUVA commercial, but the ideas behind these “Terminator-like” actions actually represent very real possibilities for how extensive the network of drones will grow in 2016. Take a moment to watch this video, and think about what types of technologies must be employed if the scenario in the video were real.

First off, the video shows the use of machine-to-machine connectivity, a hallmark of the Internet of Things (IoT), and you notice the transport drones do not appear to be currently operated by a human, which implies a preprogrammed effort to allow drones to automatically arrive at their destinations. The video goes on to show the “drone attack,” which includes the dropping of shipping materials on cars, and the drones recognize where people are at and their actions. Essentially, the drones in the video are intuitive and capable of self-direction with minimal interference. So, now you might be wondering, “Where are we going with this?”

What’s Happening with Transport Drones for the Use in Logistics?

Transport drones are rapidly becoming a prevalent part of the modern logistics industry to delight and dismay, given the FAA’s recent release of operating rules for drones, reports Adario Strange of Mashable, of private citizens and government organizations.  2016 will be the Year of the transport drones, but it’s not going to be as dramatic and intimidating as in the Audi video. Instead, 2016 will see the use of drones in the logistics industry explode, which poses major implications for modes of transportation, and shippers will need to figure out the best way to get products to customers in sync with the Holy Trinity of Manufacturing.

Transportation Modes Will Expand

The logistics industry has been beholden to the traditional standards for transporting goods for an era, but, as they say, times are a changin. Take a look at the most common modes of transportation and what transport drones could mean in relation to each mode.


Transporting goods by ocean was once thought to be the only means of international trade. The discovery of the Americas was simply an accident, and today, we know much more about the forces at work on the planet. However, ocean freight is limited as it requires the use of ports, rivers, and canals to get products into land. And don’t we ALL love when a major port gets shut down….no. 

Transport drones could impact ocean freight by making the inspection and review process simpler. Imagine an ocean cargo ship with the ability to automatically update information in a transportation management system via drones as cargo is unloaded and loaded. Similarly, drones could actually be used to unload such shipments.


Trains provide an excellent way of moving plenty of goods across the country, but it too is limited. Transport drones could be deployed from a train to deliver packages as they approach certain destinations. Imagine how nice it would be to send all of a manufacturer’s products by train across the country and have them all delivered without requiring any additional time before the train reaches the opposite coast.

Full Truckload and Less-Than-Truckload

As transportation consolidation becomes a bigger factor in the use of trucks to deliver goods, the obvious way autonomous vehicles, both of flight and simply driving, seem to be the best solutions. After all, each time a product is delivered by a trasnport drone or autonomous vehicle, it saves space and time, which helps to further consolidate freight and reduce overall costs. Furthermore, transport drones could be employed to automatically load and unload trucks at different locations, making the entire process more autonomous and accurate. Basically, computers make fewer errors than humans in nearly every aspect.

Air and Small Package

The use of the stereotypical drone is most clearly going to impact air shipments. Amazon has already created plans to have Prime Air up and running by the end of 2017, if not sooner, and Adirienne Seiko of Material Handling and Logistics magazine points to the use of drones to deliver parcels across the country that weigh less than 6.615 lbs (3 kg). This would dramatically change how the concept of small packages are delivered, moving small package delivery from trucks to air, while hastening the entire process.

And according to a BI intelligence survey of major cities, people are willing to pay for the service.

transport drones stats

How Does the Year of the Transport Drone Impact Shippers?

According to Larry Perecko, reports Terrance Bell of the Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System, the widespread use of transport drones in the logistics industry will happen within the next 10 years. However, Amazon’s efforts are pushing much faster than Perecko believes, and today’s shippers face more choices in how they will get products to customers. Since the options are expanding to include the use of drones across all of the modes of transportation, today’s shippers are facing an uphill battle with rate negotiations and delivery modes. Obviously, the information is becoming overly useful, threatening to paralyze the logistics industry. As a result, many shippers will increase efforts, in order to keep up and compete, to work with third-party logistics providers (3PLs) to ensure the best mode of transportation is used for each shipment.

The world of transportation in the logistics industry is growing, changing, and becoming more autonomous. While the options become more reliant of the IoT and connectivity, the entire process will become more accountable and efficient. However, shippers will need to figure out how to get the best rates without unnecessary delays, which may include meeting if not exceeding Amazon’s plans for 30-minute drone delivery. Therefore, the 3PL will become the dealer of the card game, and shippers will look to the dealer before deciding how to play their order fulfillment hand.