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Creepy But Climate-Friendly: Last-Mile Delivery Drones Could Curb Carbon Emissions

According to a recent study, using drone delivery for small packages could significantly reduce carbon emissions.

Written by
Calin Van Paris

It’s not a bird, it’s not a plane—it’s a drone toting your next online order. The search for ways to curb carbon emissions is a laborious one—but outsourcing a bit of human labor may be one possible solution. Say hello to drone delivery.

According to a recently-published study from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, utilizing drones during the last leg (known as the “last mile” in the delivery industry) of small package deliveries has the potential to get products to your doorstep using 94%  less energy and producing 84% fewer emissions than other vehicles. 

“For small packages with high aggregated value, such as medical supplies and electronics, the quadcopter drones showed a considerably low energy consumption per mile traveled compared to other transportation modes,” says PhD candidate Thiago Rodrigues, a co-author of the study. Though exciting, the research does focus on single, small packages; given how many parcels can be packed into one truck, the energy consumption could level out upon comparison. But progress is still progress. 

Delivery is a sensical use of drones and tracks with the technology’s evolution. (Aerial photographs are cool and all, but the flying bots were invented with bigger things in mind.) And based on the findings of one 2020 report from the World Economic Forum, the disruption is an essential one: Sans intervention, delivery vehicles in major cities around the world could increase by 36%, with emissions from said vehicles rising by an accompanying 32%.

Though slightly unsettling—think significantly more robots buzzing above our heads—the sustainable solution is a popular one. A 2018 report from the United States Postal Service found that the majority of those polled would actually prefer automated delivery, a number that has likely raised significantly with the pandemic’s want of contactless options.

In fact, Rodrigues notes a recent study that says more than 60% of consumers would be willing to pay more for delivery by bot. Would you?