Covid-19 catalyst for commercial drone deliveries

The Covid-19 crisis is likely to accelerate the viability and acceptance of commercial drone deliveries, according to a report published today.

The first findings of Protolabs’ Horizon Shift report, involving 325 aerospace business leaders in Europe, highlight an increased appetite for ‘low space’ innovation – from drone manufacturers and urban air mobility providers – and more investment into the fast-track testing of robots and drones.

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More than half of companies questioned (53 per cent) believe commercial drone deliveries will be commonplace by 2023, as the public and private sector seek safe ways to guarantee services whilst containing the spread of any viruses.

In total, 78 per cent of companies questioned from the UK believe that disruption in the form of drones represents the sector’s best opportunity for future growth. This figure from the UK outperformed its peers in Italy (75 per cent), France (64 per cent) and Germany (57 per cent).

“Covid-19 has brought huge disruption to the global economy, with the aerospace sector being among the hardest hit,” said Bjoern Klaas, Vice President and Managing Director of Protolabs Europe.

“However, a crisis can act as a catalyst for further innovation, forcing organisations to seek alternative ways to survive in rapidly changing times. Our report shows that right now within aerospace, the ‘low space’ sector is demonstrating agility in its approach to innovation and there is a real appetite to see it work in the UK.

“In fact the UKSA, the government agency responsible for the UK’s civil space programme, just announced a new drive to fund space-enabled technology to strengthen the NHS response to Coronavirus. Drone technology can help meet challenges, such as delivering test kits, masks, gowns and goggles, in the management of infectious disease outbreaks.”

He continued: “Commercial drone deliveries are the most likely disruptor and this was reinforced across the duration of our study, which was carried out as the Covid-19 pandemic started to take grip. In just a few weeks, the appetite for this technology increased by 11 per cent to 53 per cent.

Commercial drone delivery is likely to be commonplace by 2023

“Depending on legislation and advances in technology, it’s feasible that last mile delivery of products, through drones, could reach up to 30 per cent of citizens across Europe. Furthermore, nearly a third of people feel that urban mobility will be a viable mode of transport in the next three years.”

Despite the positive outlook, obstacles stand in the way of companies operating in low space: cost of initial investment over return on investment (ROI) is seen as the biggest challenge by a third of respondents, followed by technology integration and issues caused by inflexible supply chains.

Detailed testing programmes and product development cycles are the main barrier to innovation, whilst risk management and an inability to learn from failures could also stifle progress.

More than a third of companies want investment in STEM education, improved international regulation/collaboration and increased government support.

The Protolabs “Horizon Shift’ report was completed during March and April and involved aerospace professionals from France, Germany, Italy and the UK.