RAND report uses equations to answer questions on drone delivery

By Luke Geiver | August 16, 2017

A newly-released study by RAND Corp. offers insight into the impacts of drone delivery over urban settings. The study, “What’s the Buzz? The City-Scale Impacts of Drone Delivery,” utilizes a set of equations to assess the challenges faced by city-planners, policymakers, logistics companies and drone designers. The study’s purpose is to explore delivery drone operations on the following areas: energy consumption, infrastructure requirements, aerial congestion, privacy and noise.

The RAND Corp. has also planned future drone-based studies on delivery drone designs, certification and traffic management of drones, the difference in energy use between trucks and drones and delivery drones and privacy.

To view the report in its entirety, click here.

Key Findings

There May Be a Strong Case for Drone Delivery in Some Environments

-In urban settings and with the drone designs being put forward, increasing the percentage of packages delivered by drone can increase the energy consumed per package delivered substantially—by up to an order of magnitude in some cases. However, the energy per drone-delivered package can be significantly reduced by having many drone centers distributed throughout a city or region instead of using one centralized center.

-Requiring many drone centers has the additional benefits of reducing the size of the fleet, aerial congestion, and the privacy and noise concerns that overhead drones create.

-In some environments, the adverse effects (including energy consumption) appear to be at a level low enough that, when combined with expedited delivery time lines, there can be a strong case for drone delivery.


-Drone delivery systems should be encouraged by policy in some situations and discouraged in others. It is possible to roughly determine whether a set of conditions for a given city falls into the encourage or discourage categories by using low-cost analyses, such as those provided in this report. The same analyses can be used to provide or clarify options for reducing adverse impacts while retaining benefits as well. Along those lines, it appears that there can be substantial benefits to many parameters of interest by implementing policies that promote the use of multiple drone centers to service large cities as opposed to a single, centralized center.