The major rivers and waterways of big cities could regenerate as freight arteries, years after road and rail replaced waterborne transport, according to a leading expert.
In a reverse of history, rivers are now a huge, empty resource, while the urban roads around them suffer from congestion and pollution, said Robert Garbett, chief executive, Drone Major Group.
He will be speaking at Fleet Live about the possibilities for drones and how they could impact on freight transport and deliveries.
“If you are based in London and want to be one of the first companies to receive freight by drone, I would recommend staying by the river,” he said.
While any freight coming from the east into the capital by road has to contend with the bottlenecks of either the Blackwall or Dartford tunnels, setting up distribution centres outside the capital, floating cargoes down the river to Canary Wharf via autonomous barges, and then making local deliveries by electric van would avoid the most heavily congested roads and offer a cleaner solution.
Much of this work could be done by drones - driverless, autonomous craft. Garbett said the definition of a drone as a small flying machine was far too narrow.
“A drone is any unmanned system which is remotely or autonomously controlled,” he said. “There are air drones that can land on water, float on water and operate underwater.”
Autonomous vehicles are simply surface drones (ground), and are already transforming the operations of certain businesses with significant transport needs, albeit not on the public highway.
In huge factory and warehouse complexes, as well as mines, driverless vehicles are working safely and successfully. The challenge comes when they need to integrate with manned vehicles, as well as pedestrians and cyclists, on public roads, although trials are due to start in 2021 in the UK.
And as for the prospect of drones or delivery robots being used for deliveries, Garbett is sceptical. The problem is not with the last mile delivery, but the last few metres – opening doors, climbing stairs, finding space on busy pavements. More likely, he said, is the creation of parcel hubs on street corners or at railway station, where people can go to collect their deliveries.
Robert Garbett will be speaking at Fleet Live on October 9