September 16, 2020

Virginia Tech study measures benefits of drone delivery

As the FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program comes to a close, Virginia Tech has released a report studying the economic impact of drone delivery across the United States. The university modeled the effects of drone delivery on three metropolitan areas within five years of launch, representing a cross-section of U.S. cities: Christiansburg in Virginia, Austin in Texas and Columbus in Ohio. The study is unique in combining qualitative interviews with economic modeling and traffic simulations to understand the implications of drone delivery across a range of diverse communities.

The full report is available here


By year five after launch, in a single metropolitan area, drone delivery could:

  • Consumers
    • Save up to 56 hours per year per person (averaged across all residents, including non-users), or up to $582.5 million per year in total time savings for consumers;
    • Support up to 66,000 people per metropolitan area who lack access to a car (3.6-6.6% of residents); and
    • Help up to 22,000 people with transportation challenges per metropolitan area to obtain and adhere to their prescription medication.
In neighborhoods with low-vehicle ownership, 18.9% of prescriptions are never picked up from a pharmacy.
  • Local businesses
    • Generate up to $284,000 per year in new annual sales for a participating limited-service restaurant;
    • Generate up to $145,000 per year for a participating full-service restaurant; and
    • Generate up to $208,000 per year for a participating retail business.
"We're always trying to find new ways to reach our customers that makes sense and fits into our business model. Drone delivery does that." - Luke Brugh, Co-owner Brugh Coffee
  • Community
    • Save up to 294 million miles per year in road travel, equivalent to taking 25,565 cars off the road;
    • Avoid up to 580 car crashes per year in each metropolitan area; and
    • Reduce up to 113,900 tons of CO2 per year in each metropolitan area, equivalent to 46,000 acres of new forest in each metropolitan area.
Drone delivery could save up to 113,000 tons of CO2 per year in some metro areas. That's equivalent to 45,000 acres of new forest.

Importantly, the study shows that different communities may benefit from drone delivery in different ways. For example, lower density communities would experience greater time savings for residents (in hours) than higher density communities, given their mobility constraints. However, higher density communities would experience greater value of time savings (in dollars) when accounting for higher cost of living.

In addition, Virginia Tech modeled the benefits for particular demographics. For example, they project that an elderly resident could save up to 25 hours per year in avoidable travel with drone delivery; a parent with children could save up to 107 hours per year; and a single working professional could save up to 214 hours per year.