Commentary: Drones for cargo operations
Fednav in late March said it had become the first shipping company to use drones to check ice conditions on the water during a commercial voyage.
The Umiak I, one of Fednav’s icebreakers, used a variety of video-equipped drones to scout ahead of the vessel in the ice-covered waters off the Labrador Coast. The goal was to provide the captain and officers with detailed, real-time visual information on the local ice conditions, the Montreal-based bulk ocean carrier said.
Enfotec, a Fednav subsidiary, has for 20 years specialized in providing advanced ice imagery and analysis to vessels operating in difficult ice conditions. With advances in recent years in the quality of information derived from satellite and radar images and conventional ice charts, this new method of ice detection allows for the immediate capture of subtle ice features such as ridges, leads and fractures.
Thomas Paterson, Fednav’s senior vice president of shipowning, arctic and projects, said in a statement that the drones are “proving to be extremely beneficial to identify many ice features that should be avoided ahead of the vessel, as well as identifying open water leads to improve voyage efficiency.”
Shipping companies have been increasingly exploring the use of drone technologies within their operations.
The debate about drone technology for cargo handling splashed onto the market in December when Amazon’s Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos disclosed that his company was studying the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), a fancy name for drones, to deliver small packages in urban areas. The plan was met with skepticism by some supply chain experts.
The idea behind Amazon Prime Air would be to use small drones to deliver packages ordered over the Internet within 30 minutes to a customer’s door.
Until now, drones have primarily been used overseas by the military for remote combat operations and domestically by U.S. Customs for border-security purposes. Potential commercial uses include aerial photography, surveying land and crops, communication and broadcasting, monitoring forest fires and environmental conditions, disaster response, cargo transport, advertising, and protecting critical infrastructure.
Technology experts say drones for cargo delivery, however, will likely be constrained by liability, crime and privacy issues for the foreseeable future.
This article was published in the May 2014 issue of American Shipper.
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