Ben Thomas

Ben Thomas

Director, National Valuation

t: +44 207 182 2663

Judy Zhu

Judy Zhu

Associate Director, National Valuation

t: +44 207 182 2683

In the last three posts of The Future of Logistics series, we focused on the topic of AI. Now we are going to turn our attention to the use of drones in logistics.


What are the possibilities?

Drone Delivery

Drone delivery has been a widely studied and tested use of drones in the logistics industry. Compared to delivery by traditional vehicles, drone delivery has the potential to be more effective in last-mile delivery to places where road access is limited.

In March 2018, SF Express, one of the biggest Chinese delivery operators, was granted the first domestic drone operator licence in the country. The company aims to use drones to deliver goods to rural and sparsely populated areas in China. With the existing well-developed mobile network in the country, drone delivery may unlock the potential of another online shopping wave in China.

Drone delivery can not only solve the road access problem, but also the time problem. Zipline is a company focusing on the drone delivery of medical supplies. In Rwanda, the company has delivered 7,000 units of blood over 5,000 drone flights. Doctors can have blood delivered within 30 minutes from the time they send the text message to Zipline. Drone delivery enables doctors in Rwanda to deal with emergency cases they couldn’t predict. The model can be seen in the infographic below:


Drones in a Warehouse

Drones can be used in warehouse management, such as in inventory management and warehouse security.

Drones are already being used to scan barcode on goods in warehouses. Two drones can do the work of 100 human workers within the same period of time. However, as drones don’t need rest, they can work day and night. In addition to speed, drones increase the accuracy too. Drone makers claim that scanning accuracy by drones is close to 100%.

In June 2018, Nestlé and XPO announced that they are going to jointly build a 638,000-square-foot digital distribution centre in the East Midlands, where drones and robots will be used. Drones will patrol within the facility and check the inventory across high shelves. The data collected will be used to help better manage the warehouse space and staffing.

Drones can also be used as a part of the security surveillance system for warehouses and other industrial facilities. Drones can be installed with various devices for different purposes.

  • Camera

Security surveillance drones are most likely to have cameras installed, for the purpose of live monitoring, recording and identifying.

  • Motion sensor

Motion-sensitive drones can perform security tasks with less human operation. For example, drones can be activated by abnormal movements and follow the objects while sending out alerts.

  • Thermal sensor

Thermal-sensitive drones can detect abnormal human/animal movements, similar to motion-sensitive drones. Other than that, thermal sensors can also allow drones to detect dangers in warehouses, such as fire and malfunction of machineries. Other sensors can help drones in detecting other dangers, such as gas or chemical leaks. This type of drone is especially useful to carry out security tasks where there is potential danger to humans.

  • Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence can make drones “smart”. It allows drones to perform security tasks 24/7 with minimum human operations and to learn from every task.


Drone & Device

Drone Inspection

Drones can be used to inspect buildings and industrial facilities from different angles, which is either difficult to achieve by human or costly to do with certain tools or equipment.

Drones can give views of buildings from a high level, including the roofing and tall infrastructure such as chimneys and silos. Drones can inspect buildings or facilities spread across a wide area quickly and efficiently. This is especially useful in a large distribution park or a shipping port. Drone inspection can be operated remotely, which will save human surveyors time and energy to physically travel to the site and carry out inspections. It offers the potential for surveyors to work more efficiently with the help of drones.



Drones are here. They are already being used in many different areas in domestic and commercial environment, yet the scope for other uses and innovations is changing rapidly.

But what challenges are there for drones to be fully adopted? How will drones impact on logistics industry? We will have a look at these questions in the next post.


If you are interested in more details of this report or our other logistics reports, please contact Ben Thomas, Director of CBRE National Valuation – Logistics & Distribution, or Judy Zhu, Associate Director of CBRE National Valuation.

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