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Climate change

Delivery drones could reduce emissions—if they’re used properly

February 14, 2018

Regulating how drones are used to haul cargo could ensure that they help fight global warming.

Size is important: A Lawrence Livermore study published in Nature Communications shows that a small quadcopter drone carrying a one-pound load from a local warehouse emits less carbon dioxide than a medium-duty truck would to deliver the same package.

So is power: Things are less clear for a large octocopter drone hauling 16 pounds. If the electricity used to power the drone is generated from fossil fuels, the drone creates 50 percent more emissions than the truck. If it comes from renewables, the drone creates 9 percent less.

Why it matters: Joshua Stolaroff, who led the study, tells IEEE Spectrum that this is a rare chance to “consider the impacts of the technology before it gets deployed.” That means delivery drone use could be limited to ensure that it results in fewer emissions, rather than more.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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