A government report last November found the use of drones in logistics could result in £2.8bn of savings and boost productivity.

Research by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said there will be an estimated 11,000 drones in transport and logistics by 2030, which will represent around 14% of the total number in the UK by the end of this decade.

It said investment by companies such as Ocado and Amazon into robotics and autonomous systems was already transforming the sector, through large-scale warehouse automation.

Drones will ultimately be responsible for the delivery of 80% of all items, it added.

So are drones the future of home delivery?

The simple answer is no. Certainly not in the 2-person delivery world. The average drone would struggle to transport, unpack and install a fridge-freezer, collect the old unit for recycling and take away the rubbish. Can a drone assemble a corner sofa, plump up the cushions and complement the consumer on the great colour choice - no! So we are safe in the two-person world for the time being I think.

For other deliveries the answer is still no in my view – except in some very special circumstances – mainly where access is difficult. There are some good examples of vital medical supplies being delivered this way to the highlands of Scotland for example, but these are few and far between. Let’s not forget that Amazon Prime Air have tried it and pretty much failed which speaks volumes (no pun intended).

Let’s look at the practicalities...

I found some data that suggested around 2.8 billion items were delivered in 2020, over 10 million every day, which feels about right to me. So that would mean 10,000,000 drone flights every day or 80% of that number if you could consolidate a couple of featherlight items. Apart from the issues with airspace (imagine the London skyline full of parcel carrying drones) there are so many considerations for which there are currently no good answers such as:

Who loads the drones?

Who programs the drones?

What about returns?

What about larger or irregular shapes?

What about hazardous or dangerous goods?

What about high value goods?

What about multi parcel deliveries?

What about pharma?

What about when no one at home or we need to deliver to a safe place?

At ArrowXL we have found that automation requires certainty and conformity of size/shape/weight. This is perfect for the parcel world but less so for our world. An ArrowXL delivery route can involve everything from a 650-inch TV to a five-seater corner settee. We are looking at some methods, but frankly our options are limited and we continue to rely on our amazing delivery crews.

Charlie Shiels, chief executive, ArrowXL