In December 2016, online retail giant Amazon became the first company to deliver a package using automation when they delivered goods to a Cambridge destination just 13 minutes after they were ordered.
Since then, delivery firm UPS have launched their own drone-launching truck, with the event in Florida intended to demonstrate how package-carrying drones can reduce emissions while making delivery more efficient in rural locations.
And more recently, the international transport network Uber has launched its own freight chain with the San Francisco based company having ambitions to cut out freight intermediaries by introducing load matching apps.
However, all three revolutionary concepts have received a certain amount of scepticism due to a number of complexities in their practicalities.
Firstly, critics questioned how much of a “game changer” the Amazon trial would be, insisting it was merely a PR stunt from the company that had only just provided same day delivery.
"This is a marketing coup for Amazon," said Natalie Berg, an analyst at Planet Retail. "Drone delivery is another string to Amazon's bow, but it's certainly not an industry game changer."
While the drone did reach its destination, and while Amazon have claimed they will be able to deliver packages to consumers within half an hour, UPS did not have such luck at their own launch.
The initial test of the Horsefly Octocopter, which launches from a built-in platform in a UPS truck, ran smoothly before a second test saw the drone tip over when trying to take off.
And the safety of both systems has legal issues too. US rules state that the commercial use of aircrafts requires a pilot to keep them in sight, limiting the reach of how far they can fly.
Meanwhile in the UK, the safety of drones has come under the spotlight in recent months after reports of near-misses between aircraft at London Stanstead and Cornwall Newquay airports.
While there is no UK statute insisting on a close-by pilot, drones are only permitted to be flown during daylight hours, low winds and when there is good visibility but not in rain, snow or icy conditions, almost entirely forbidding their use in the key business period prior to Christmas.
And BIFA Director General Robert Keen also has his reservations about automation.
“I have been working in the industry for over 40 years and have watched the naysayers and doom mongers in the media, and the wider industry, predict the demise of forwarders and brokers, only for them to have been proven wrong,” he said. “In fact, the opposite is true. We have more forwarders now than ever before.”
Referring to the Uber app, Keen also questioned how they can react to conditions beyond their control.
“Freight forwarders understand the intricacies of the mosaic-like supply chain frameworks that exist, and most importantly, many of our members have acquired knowledge, experience and agility that the tech-startups will find almost impossible to match.”
“How will they cope when a truck carrying expensive and time-sensitive cargo breaks down? Who will arrange for a replacement truck? And who will guarantee the load? How does an app react to freak weather and negotiate customs issues? Many of these questions cannot be suitably solved by an app alone.”
And Keen’s question marks are echoed by David Johnson, a Yorkshire-based logistics expert and Managing Director at Tudor International Freight.
He said: “For 25 years I have been involved in the logistics sector and as an independent freight forwarder I am always looking at innovative ways to increase efficiency for our customers.
“While the use of drones to deliver packages has received some attention in recent months, we are years away from them having a significant impact on the industry.
“At Tudor, we pride ourselves on the personal relationships that we build with our customers from the first to the final stage of the delivery process. And if you are using drones you immediately take away what is an important factor of the process.”
If you need assistance in transporting your goods, please call Tudor on 0113 250 1155 to request a quote.