Technology Planning and Analysis

Delivery wars London: A year of driverless deliveries & drone drop-offs?

This is a contributed piece from David Jinks, Head of Customer Research at ParcelHero


This year will see a transformation in the way we send and receive parcels and deliveries. ‘Sci-fi’ delivery methods are nearer than most people think. Driverless deliveries may sound like something out of I Robot, but in fact will be happening in London this year. Greenwich’s streets will soon see the eerie sight of driverless vans operating a predetermined route, moving parcels between either warehouses and shops or stores and homes.

The vehicles will be autonomous, and may serve a large distribution centre and the O2 Arena. However, whilst control of the vans is entirely automatic, we expect there will be a person in the van to ensure the operation runs smoothly and to take control in the case of an emergency.

As well as driverless vehicles, drones could appear in UK skies far sooner than has been previously predicted. Aviation regulations are now holding back their introduction just as much, if not more, than technology issues; and the UK Government has been quick to support Amazon’s trials.

Last year Amazon approached the UK Government about developing drones in the UK to deliver items here as it felt America’s Federal Aviation Authority rules had hindered their development. Transport Minister Robert Goodwill confirmed: “We're working with Amazon, and Government is working on the whole issue of drones… We're both keen to innovate”. Mr Goodwill added: “Amazon came to see me to ask about starting drone trials in the UK because regulations in the US were too restrictive. So much for the land of the free”. And in December 2015 Amazon boss Jeff Bezos revealed: “One of the regulatory agencies that's moving fastest on this is the UK, so it's possible that drone deliveries will start first in the UK”.

This isn’t the only sky-high ambition that Amazon has for its deliveries in 2016. Amazon has already launched its own ‘secret’ flights carrying thousands of packages in and out of the UK before Christmas as it trialled setting up its own air freight business. From mid-November Amazon chartered a Boeing 737 to fly between Poland, the UK and Germany. The move makes sense as Amazon needs to be able to ship goods from Germany to the UK, to arrive within just two days - for free to its Prime customers - without racking up enormous courier fees.  Perhaps the sky really is the limit for deliveries in 2016.


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