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From Our CEO

The Lifesaving Potential of Drones

By ASCM CEO Abe Eshkenazi, CSCP, CPA, CAE

Reading current news headlines, it’s clear that the global supply chain landscape is constantly being reshaped by innovation. This past week, it was drones garnering much of the media attention.

Wing, Alphabet’s X lab drone, was reported to have completed 80,000 tests since 2014, leading to new collaborations with Walgreens and FedEx for food and beverage delivery. In addition, Alphabet is working with Southwest Virginia retailer Sugar Magnolia to distribute a range of sweet and savory treats, gifts, stationery, and paper goods.

In the coming months, Amazon will test its much-hyped Prime Air service in a to-be-determined location. The company says the drones will depart directly from fulfillment centers with Amazon Prime packages on board.

Uber’s drones will land right on top of Uber Eats driver vehicles, and a thermal feature will be contained within the drones to keep food items cold or hot. Uber has completed tests at a McDonald’s neighboring San Diego State University, and nearby residents soon will be able to order drone-delivered meals.

Going beyond convenience to actually protecting lives, entomologists Bart Knols of Radboud University, Richard Mukabana from the University of Nairobi and social entrepreneur Guido Welter have come up with the idea to use drones to spray a control agent in Tanzanian rice paddies, a natural mosquito breeding habitat. Malaria infects more than 10 million people every year in Tanzania, killing 80,000.

Across the ocean, UPS and CVS announced they have completed the first U.S. deliveries of prescription medicines — one directly to a consumer’s home; the other to a retirement community. The drones launched from a CVS store in Cary, North Carolina, then hovered about 20 feet over the properties before slowly lowering the medicines to the ground.

CVS President Kevin Hourican says this demonstrates what’s possible for customers who can’t easily get to stores: “CVS is exploring many types of delivery options for urban, suburban and rural markets,” he adds. “We see big potential in drone delivery in rural communities.” 

According to McKinsey & Company, when it comes to rural areas, drones are surprisingly cost-competitive, at just 10% more than the price of typical delivery models. The firm predicts that rural drone deliveries could comprise 13% of anything-to-consumer deliveries by 2025.

Supply chain research for a better world

ASCM is committed to supporting academic institutions that are researching how emerging trends can advance supply chains and ultimately create a better world. One of our recently awarded grants enables professors at the University of Missouri – St. Louis to explore drone use in less developed countries, where lack of vaccines contributes to high death rates. The professors also are investigating how drones can successfully deliver vaccines to remote communities while overcoming challenges related to maintaining the cold chain during travel.

The ASCM Research Subcommittee is currently seeking grant proposals focused on emerging trends, processes, techniques and technologies that will have an impact on supply chains and value networks of the future. The deadline is January 31. We invite you to download the guidelines and submit your proposal here.

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