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Last-mile drone delivery reduces greenhouse gas emissions, study says

Drone carrying package above on-lookers.
Alejandro Figueroa

Companies in the Miami Valley are on the cutting edge of drone delivery technology. A new study from a data science journal suggests the new technology has more than just economic promise, it could also reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the shipping industry.

Winsupply and Kroger are some of the local companies experimenting with autonomous last-mile delivery for their products.

Instead of using diesel trucks or vans for the final chunk of the shipping process, the companies attach some of their light weight products to drones at distribution centers. The autonomous robots then fly the packages right to people’s doors.

Thiago Rodrigues, a transportation researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, co-authored the study.

He said using drones for last-mile delivery avoids traffic in cities, and long trips to deliver just a few packages in rural areas, which both burn a lot of gas and emit carbon into the atmosphere.

"We have more and more people ordering goods online and expecting them to be delivered very fastly to our homes,” Rodrigues said. “So adopting these new vehicles could present a very important reduction on the environmental impact we have from buying more goods online."

Rodrigues' new study found that greenhouse-gas emissions were 84% lower for drones than for diesel trucks per package delivered.

Chris Welter is a reporter and corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Chris Welter is an Environmental Reporter at WYSO through Report for America. In 2017, he completed the radio training program at WYSO's Eichelberger Center for Community Voices. Prior to joining the team at WYSO, he did boots-on-the-ground conservation work and policy research on land-use issues in southwest Ohio as a Miller Fellow with the Tecumseh Land Trust.