Autonomous Drones Revolutionizing Conventional Warehousing

Written by Mohamed Hardi Bin Abdullah, GDLM

The Internet of Things (IoT) has made the leap from conceptual to actual. Early predictions for IoT that once seemed out of this world are starting to feel more like an understatement.

As the IoT becomes ubiquitous, we see a steady push to adapt IoT technologies to industry-specific applications to save money and time, and simplify operations complexities. Unique industry applications are enabling enterprises to deliver solutions and services that give their clients and partners distinct operating advantages.

Autonomous drone can now gather data from cell towers and other structures at the push of a button – eliminating the cost and danger of human inspection. A decade ago, tower inspections with drones would have seemed like something out of a science fiction movie. With recent developments in cognitive computing, an autonomous and situational aware UAV is a reality.

Rise of Drones

Emergence of the Autonomous Drones

Although it is still early in the revolution and no one knows exactly where it is headed, the potential exists for all missions considered too dangerous or complex for humans. These autonomous machines can make decisions faster and go in harm’s way without any fear. A new generation of drones is coming.

Only this time they are autonomous – able to operate on their own without humans controlling them from somewhere with a joy stick. Some autonomous machines are run by artificial intelligence which allows them to learn, getting better each time. These autonomous drone applications are having an impact in many industries, including telecommunications, energy & utilities, oil & gas, insurance and public sector.

Components of an Autonomous Drone

The diagram above shows the components of an Autonomous Drone.

Operating an Autonomous Drone in the Warehouse

In order for the warehouse to take advantage of Autonomous Drones following things are necessary:

1. For Autonomous Drones to move independently within the 4 walls of warehouse, the key requirement is to have physical warehouse map with details of all the aisles, rack locations and other details.

2. For this the crucial input is to have warehouse map which has the co-ordinates of each location. A geodesic survey of the inbound and outbound areas of the warehouse needs to be done. Warehouse map is created with X, Y, Z co-ordinates of all the locations.

3. Warehouse physical map is fed into drone software. Drone can navigate using the warehouse co-ordinates.

4. For indoor referencing to increase the positional accuracy of the drones are to use beacon in the aisles and pathways of warehouses. So whenever drones pass these beacons it will publish the exact positional co-ordinates which can be then are used for navigation.

5. Autonomous drone needs to be equipped with a scanner which can scan various bar codes stickers of different bar code standards like EAN, UCC.

6. Once the drone scans the data it needs to communicate to the WMS system or custom software which can capture the location and inventory.

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7. Autonomous drones need to communicate using a different frequency, as warehouse have other equipment’s like forklift terminals, Hand held terminals, RFID devices using Wi-Fi.

Autonomous Drones for Warehousing

Traditional warehouse managers have always been looking for ways to improve productivity of the operations and people in warehouse. Autonomous drones can significantly improve warehouse operations in the areas of:

1. Inventory management – Autonomous drones can help warehouses update and coordinate their inventory management databases in several ways. Some heavy duty drones should be able to help transport packages between warehouses to help meet local or even regional demand without relying on trucking.

There are also developments in autonomous drone technology that include attaching barcode scanners to flying drones, allowing them to update inventory logs at a greater rate than human workers can and can even do so overnight.

Autonomous Drone operating in a warehouse

The diagram above shows an Autonomous Drone operating in a warehouse.

2. Claims and returns – A customer dissatisfied with a product may no longer have to trek to the post office to return it, or require a truck to come by their home and add to the area’s traffic congestion drones will eventually be dispatched directly to the customer to pick up an unwanted item. Retailers could use heavier duty drones to return entire damaged pallets as well.

3. From Store to customer – The long-term use of autonomous drone, as mentioned above, is using them to deliver directly to the customer. Perhaps the customer orders online or perhaps they visit an in-store location and have their purchase delivered to them at home later that day. We already have the technology and logistics to facilitate same-day delivery, drones will only make that process easier and faster.

4. Yard Management Drones – Yard management autonomous drones are in charge of watching after equipment in trailer yards. They monitor the assets in the facility and make note of anything that may be missing or out of place. These drones are specifically designed to handle outdoor elements, as opposed to other drones that are made to work indoors. Outdoor drones have to be able to withstand acts of precipitation, heavy wind, and more as they fly.

5. Asset Location Drones – Asset location autonomous drones are designed to do exactly what their name states – locate assets. They can cover a large area on a map searching for high-value assets on the property. These drones may not apply to the warehousing industry specifically, but their capabilities could be transformed for warehousing in the future.

Delivery by an Autonomous Drone in the warehouse

The diagram above shows the delivery by an Autonomous Drone in the warehouse.


Companies can take steps to get ahead of the autonomous drone adoption curves by beginning to determine the nuts and bolts of who will support these technologies.

Issues like job descriptions and ramifications for compliance are still only distant points on many organizations’ strategic roadmaps. But the advance of the autonomous drone market indicates that these technologies will be major business transformers.

To take advantage of these new assets, companies need people to run them. Now is the time to start thinking about it.


Chris O. Connor (2017) “The Cognitive Drone and the Promise of IoT
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David Martin (2017) “New Generation of Drones Set to Revolutionize Warfare
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Jay Schofield (5 July 2016) “What Do Drones Mean for the Future of Warehouses?
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Mary E. Shacklett (5 May 2017) “Robots, Drones, and the Rise of the Operations Engineer”. Retrieved from (accessed 15 September 2017)

Overflo Warehouse, LLC (2017) “How Drones Are Changing the Face of Warehousing”. Retrieved from (accessed 15 September 2017)

Ramesh P.V. Babu (12 July 2016) “Be Ready For the Drone Invasion
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About the Author: Mohamed Hardi Bin Abdullah has substantive years of experiences in managing logistics and warehouse operations. He is a qualified member of the Singapore Institute of Purchasing and Materials Management (SIPMM). Hardi holds a Professional Diploma in Logistics Management (PDLM) and he is currently completing the course on Graduate Diploma in Logistics Management (GDLM) at SIPMM Academy.

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