Prime Mover Magazine

Exploring the future

While a small unmanned aerial vehicle – the official term for a drone – won’t substitute a B-double any time soon, it could well cause some serious disruption in the local delivery and retail market, as well as mining and agriculture.

Already, BHP Billiton is using drones to keep an eye on its Goonyella coalmine – replacing a team of surveyors that would struggle to replicate the drones’ rapid-fire collection of data – and Australia Post is trialling them to access remote properties or premises with a locked gate.

According to Goldman Sachs research, global drone sales for commercial purposes are already worth $20 billion a year, so ignoring the trend could be a crucial mistake for those in the business of moving freight. That’s why our business columnist, Brendan Richards, had a look at the burgeoning new market for our September edition and tried to evaluate just how the advent of the drone could make sense in a transport context.

Awareness, he concluded, will be key to dealing with the hype. It will take some time before we know how drone technology will actually affect the age-old business model of land transport, and it is also still unclear which company has the right commercial model, too. But keeping an eye on the trend and how it can complement the work you do today may well give you a competitive advantage down the track.

In line with that approach, our experienced journalist Peter Shields investigated just how urbanisation is changing the way we transport freight in metropolitan centres around the country. While drones are still a while away from making a notable impact here, the pressure to reinvent the way we handle city freight traffic is already palpable today: According to Jago Dodson, Professor of Urban Policy at RMIT University, the nation’s capital cities are growing so quickly that we will be effectively adding an extra Brisbane to the map over the next decade or so.

In France, the industry has reacted to the same problem by bringing a new vehicle type to market. Designed to fill the gap between a classic rigid truck and an articulated semi, a so-called city trailer combination can measure around 10m in length and is meant to provide transport businesses with an innovative solution to carry more freight while still being able navigate tight city traffic.

It might not be the right solution for Australia, but it goes to show that it’s never too early to reflect on the future of commercial transport and the business opportunities that could come with it.

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