Drones and delivery trucks could work together, but regulatory hurdles remain

The future of last-mile logistics could be a hybrid truck and drone model, but there are significant regulatory barriers keeping it from becoming a reality in the near future, according to a paper published May 16 by Matthias Winkenbach, the director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology ‘s (MIT) Megacity Logistics Lab, and Farri Gaba, a research assistant at the university.

Deploying drones on traditional delivery vehicles would allow parcels to be distributed simultaneously. The drone would serve locations that would take far longer to reach given traffic, or in cases where a number of “highly constrained customers” complicate a truck’s otherwise normal route.

Hybrid truck and drone delivery models would be better suited for rural areas where it is faster to cover distances by air than by ground, the paper found. Current Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations make the hybrid model “a non-starter” in urban settings, but suggest it could be possible in a “sparsely populated area” under the agency’s Part 107 guidelines.