Ever thought about integrating drone technology into your already existing work processes? Interested in what robotics can do to streamline your supply chain but concerned about the implications it may have for the people involved?

Many of us believe that adopting technology can and inevitably does replace human workers entirely.  Or that there are only a certain amount of jobs available and integrating robotics will replace people within the supply chain.

The simple answer is: adopting technology is the key to the future and triple bottom line success within the organization.  The truth is, we have never, in all of history, seen the volumes that we have within supply chains.  The expectations we have as individuals on the market puts even more pressure on supply chains year over year to bring us our consumables.  What technology can do – and has been doing – is help us achieve unprecedented volumes at faster speeds to (and from) challenging/remote global locations within the supply chain. As consumption increases, we must adapt and operate more efficiently. Technology complements our abilities as humans to meet the ever-increasing global demand.

Where do drones fit in? On a macro level, drones enable us to reach difficult destinations more quickly while either picking up or delivering an item, or creating precise measurements by surveying an area.  Drone last-mile delivery is the up-and-coming technology that is evolving so quickly that regulators around the world are racing to catch up.  They can be programmed by the user to autonomously fly, can be manually controlled, or both.  While some people may think – if this is autonomous, surely people are not involved – what holds true is that humans ultimately do control the drone whether from their laptop or a joystick, autonomously or not.  Autonomous implies that the machine has “autopilot” capabilities, much like in an airplane: it can be programmed by the pilot to fly at a certain altitude, fly by waypoints, level out, to react (or not) to certain stimuli, etc.

Here is a list of a few drone applications:

  • Conservation – historical site management, surveying, and plant and wildlife monitoring
  • Humanitarian and disaster management, search-and-rescue operations, emergency response, etc.
  • Aerial photography
  • Space travel and aeronautics
  • Express shipping and delivery
  • Geographic mapping and precise measurement
  • Infrastructure development and urban planning
  • Healthcare – time-sensitive payload, drug delivery, etc.
  • Manufacturing and inventory management
  • Military, law enforcement and security
  • Agriculture – data gathering, automate processes like spraying crop, seed dispersal, or picking produce, etc.
  • Weather forecasting and climate – sensors
  • Engineering, construction, and inspection
  • Mining
  • Communications – phones and internet connectivity
  • Live entertainment – light shows, floating projection screens, etc.
  • Media – cinema, journalism and news, sports, advertising, etc.

This list is not exhaustive – there are many more applications either already in use or that have potential! What does this mean for people who work within these industries? Drone adoption gives the user the benefit of time and safety.  For example, a delivery driver could park his vehicle and program 5 drones at once to fly in all different directions within a defined radius to drop off or even receive packages.  If this took place over a snowy winter, and one of these destinations was also in a valley, the driver would also enjoy the benefit of safety by not having to risk slipping on the roads (as would the person living in the valley!).  Drone technology is even being utilized by aid agencies such as UNICEF to help remote communities that lack basic infrastructure, like roads, with healthcare and specimen transportation; for the success of these programs, they must train the local areas’ inhabitants in these new, high-in-demand drone piloting skills that contribute to their economy.  Ultimately, drone technology enhances our abilities to reach places that we couldn’t reach before and move time-sensitive payloads more quickly and efficiently than ever.

Does this threaten the average worker’s job? Rest assured, no.  This can be the first step toward (or enhance already existing) triple bottom line philosophies within the workplace – people, planet, and prosperity.  If anything, integrating drone technology within a company will lead to employees developing new skills and creating new jobs within the workforce.  Employees will be able to do their work more efficiently and easily, promoting well-being for the employee.  Companies will find savings and gain a better overall company profit.  And, of course, the environment benefits greatly with the dramatic decrease in carbon emissions that would come out of conventional transportation services.

Integrating new robotics technologies into old systems that have never before been challenged can come with some anxieties.  Understandably so.  However, adopting and integrating drone technology into outdated systems is the key to the future.  Previously unchallenged supply chains must be streamlined to benefit the customer, the employer, the environment, and most importantly, the employee – prosperity is for us all.

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