Monday, September 30, 2013

Drones Deliver in China

The development of technology has greatly changed the business model of supply chain management. Companies adopt sophisticated information technology to keep the information flow fluently and shared among all the stakeholder.

In addition to the information technology, lots of machines or devices has been invented to help automated the supply chain process, and as a result, the labor cost and human error could be reduced. Amazon recently acquires the Kiva System, which provides robots who can move the inventory to the right places. Google's self-driving vehicle just finished the driving test across the nations with only one accident - the self-driving vehicle is hit by a careless drivers. It's not hard to imagine how it will change the supply chain world. Another news that amazes me is that a company named Linkall, which was formed by several recently graduate Chinese students, invented an unmanned plane which will be used for package deliver.

When people talk about drone, they may think of weapon, military, and will rarely relate it to our daily life.  Linkall invented a drone called SmartBee to provide delivery service. Imagine you get hungry after work in the midnight, and order some food online; after a while, your food is delivered by this unmanned plane and you don't even need to go downstair.

The following picture is the first prototype of the drone. The drone is surrounded by four propeller blades, which enable the drone to fly vertically. It has a "hand" at the bottom of the plane, which could grab the package that will be delivered.

The team is working on an improving version of the first prototype. They want to redesign the drone to make it more customer-friendly. They want to make sure that when the customers receive the package, they don't feel like they get the package from a cold machine. 

Hu Jiaqi, one of the cofounder of the Linkall, said that they designed the drone to address to "the last one mile" delivery problem in urban city. In general, more costs occur during the last one mile of the delivery. The logistics company reduce the cost by delivery the products in batch, so they could spread out the fixed cost. Since the destination may spread across the cities during the last one mile, it may require more delivery man during this step. As the labor cost increase, it becomes a more and more important problems. The drone could also improve the same-city deliver, like the food delivery. Since such kinds of delivery usually provides through the day, it would be better to have a "deliver man" who can work 24/7. 

The following diagram shows the pick-up process for the drone. It first lands on the landing area, and then it will be put on the conveyor. Then it will go through the 3D Scan Tester, to check whether the drone have damages. If so, the drone will be moved to the maintenance/parking area. If not, or after the repair, the drone will get charge and pick up the package, standing by the next flight. 

For the security reason, the company want to limit the interaction between the drone and the customers. They designed a deliver box that will be hung outside the building of the customers. The package will be dropped directly to the box. 

Of course, there are still a lot of problems for this business model. Recently, US government has approve the commercial use of drone, but China doesn't have a explicit law on this issue. There are also other alternative to address the "last one mile" problem. In Japan, since the 7-21 connivence store is everywhere (at Tokyo, there is nearly one 7-21 every block), the customers could ask the delivery man to leave their package at the closet 7-21 convenient store. Compared with the drone, this alternative seems much cheaper. And there are also security reason. How to make sure the plane won't hurt people? How to make sure the safety of the product? However, I am still pretty excited to see such a great technology happening the supply chain, and I believe the problem will be solve someday. 

1 comment:

  1. Great information,interesting blog,keep up the good work, Thanks….



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