The Sunday Mail
On September 16, 1994 schoolchildren at Ariel Primary School in Zimbabwe watched in perplexity as a disc-shaped craft landed on their grounds.
Two queer beings popped up from the unusual craft, gazed at them and wandered about briefly before creeping back into their disc-like craft.
The unusual visitors took off at an astronomical speed within the twinkling of an eye.
This incident became publicised globally, attracting psychiatric researchers from as far afield as the Harvard Faculty of medicine.
They dubbed it the “Ariel Phenomenon”.
Today, 23 years later, the skies of the world are slowly getting filled with flying creatures that remotely resemble the unidentified flying object of the Ariel encounter.
Of course, these are not Ariel encounters of some sort.
Unlike the Ariel encounter aliens, the ones hovering presently will in no time be delivering parcels to your doorstep.
Imagine yourself receiving a package through the skies from a flying alien. Drone delivery is coming.
Drone deliveries in fast foods
Picture yourself making a call to a fast foods outlet to place an order for your favourite takeaway.
Exactly 20 minutes later a drone comes buzzing and hovering in your yard, gently placing the neatly packed parcel at your doorstep.
We are not in for a science fiction movie.
It is an excursion on drone deliveries we are getting into. Unmanned aerial vehicles are already transforming supply chain and logistics management.
Following a shortage of waiters and such like restaurant workers, a Singaporean company called Infinium developed some kind of “drone waiters”.
These are drones that serve food and drinks in place of human labour.
Through visible and near-infrared light (NIR) sensors, the drones whizz and buzz over restaurant clients, navigating via computer-programmed routes.
Although drones are impersonal in- asfar as service delivery is concerned, they are reliable, strong, and not easily tempted to play truant as human waiters would be.
Motor spares deliveries
You can imagine yourself stuck with your car 30 or more kilometres away from the nearest service station.
No matter how planned and well organised you could be as an individual, the inconvenience of vehicle failure is inevitable.
In seeking help, all you might get is a good mechanic with no vehicle spare supplies in the birch forests of the African jungle.
Place in your mind a business model in which service stations and motor vehicle spares providers have embraced the concept of drone deliveries.
When someone is stranded in this way, the supplies or spares they need could be delivered promptly using drones at comparatively low rates upon making a call or placing an online order.
Unmanned aerial vehicles are taking centre stage in ensuring the realisation of this concept that was once a preserve of science fiction.
Emergency medical supplies
Drones as a miracle of invention have already successfully started delivering blood packs to distant hospitals in Rwanda.
The international body corporate involved in this engagement is already spreading its wings into the Tanzanian territory for similar operations.
It is envisaged that vaccines, Aids medication, key medical drugs, anti-malaria pills, and other urgently required life-saving prescriptions will be conveyed via drones in Tanzania come 2018.
Orders would be placed through mobile phone text messages.
The delivery firm would load supplies on to the unmanned aerial vehicle at their distribution centre before sending the technological piece on its delivery mission.
At the receiving end, the drone drops by miniature parachute, the required package in less than 30 minutes after the order.
What a short lead-time within the supply chain that comes from the use of drones.
In the Bavarian Alps, DHL have been involved in delivering emergency parcels in otherwise traditionally inaccessible locations.
Consumers in America expressed great interest in the idea of drone deliveries.
Surveys conducted in the US reflect that close to 80 percent of consumers would be comfortable receiving drone deliveries if such can be effected within an hour of placing an order.
Fresh foods, beverages, clothes, books, and electronic gadgets proved to be the most likely items that American consumers preferred to receive via drone delivery.
Renowned corporates like Amazon, WalMart, Google, and DHL have also joined the drone craze. They are currently undertaking drone business delivery trial runs.
The first customer to receive a drone delivery from Amazon got their package in just 13 minutes from Amazon Prime Air, the leading retailer’s unmanned aerial vehicle delivery program.
A cargo loading bay or external bin is affixed to each of the drones used by Amazon in their deliveries.
Successful drone deliveries have been made in Canada, United Kingdom, New Zealand, America, Australia, Rwanda and the Netherlands.
Until recently, drone deliveries were limited to very small loads.
To mitigate this, China is in the process of developing the world’s biggest network for heavy load unmanned aerial vehicle logistics.
The network is expected to accommodate hundreds of “macho drones”.
It will span over a radius of 300 kilometres and drones plying routes therein will have the capacity to ferry at least one tonne of cargo each.
Moreso it is intended that speed will reign supreme in this robust logistics network.
Zimbabwean businesses are encouraged to keenly investigate the kind of new business models they can come up with given the tremendous transformation that is enveloping the global supply chain and logistics.
Drones shorten the lead time – the interval between placing an order and receiving delivery -in the supply chain.
The use of unmanned aerial vehicles is environmentally friendly compared to traditional modes of delivery like road, rail, or air transport.
They are quick in delivering packages because of their ability to take straight line navigations.
Their deployment is not only limited to areas endowed with good infrastructure.
It is possible to fly them through remote areas or rugged terrain that cannot be easily reached via road or rail.
Compared to human labour, drone deliveries are a low-cost option.
Firms that employ drones in their supply chain management are proving to have a greater competitive edge against their rivals.
Although drones are economical, challenges besetting these noble crafts are plenty.
With the exception of China’s ongoing research, packages handled through drones are usually small and are moved over relatively short distances.
Unmanned aerial vehicles might crash in extremely windy conditions. Buzzing drones can be a nuisance in some instances.
A great deal of work still needs to be done on drone battery life to prolong their flight time and lengthen flight distance.
Aviation regulations are still militating against the full commercialisation of drone deliveries in many nations.
There are concerns that drones might collide with birds or interfere with passenger planes.
Advanced countries, however, have started integrating drone navigation safety rules into their civil aviation laws.
Unmanned aerial vehicles are gathering unstoppable momentum. Their impact on the markets is bound to change the nature of modern supply chains.
It is imperative that Zimbabwean business people should start planning with drone technology in mind.
Oga Chapwanya is an academic, marketing researcher, writer, trainer and educationist. Feedback: [email protected] +263773202624