Report concludes that autonomous air and ground delivery vehicles can reduce emissions by more than 90 percent compared to traditional internal combustion engine delivery vehicles
The report, which examined UAVs and grounded delivery robots, found that centralized deliveries posed a significant improvement to individual customer trips
Made Public Date


United States

Carbon emissions reductions in last mile and grocery deliveries utilizing air and ground autonomous vehicles

Summary Information

The increase in package deliveries around the world has made the need for sustainable, efficient solutions more relevant than ever. To help meet this need, some proposals include the usage of driverless air and ground vehicles to deliver retail products, groceries, or healthcare supplies. A recent paper by a researcher from Portland University sought to understand the efficiency of such autonomous delivery vehicles in terms of vehicle miles, energy consumption, and carbon dioxide emissions.

The report analyzed three types of vehicle: drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs); sidewalk autonomous delivery robots (SADRs); and road autonomous delivery robots (RADRs). As a baseline, their CO2 emissions were compared to those of an electric vehicle (e-van), a conventional internal combustion engine van, and the emissions that would result if the customer simply drove to the store.


  • The analysis found that SADRs were the most efficient solution in terms of watt-hours per customer for service areas ranging up to 10 square kilometers. At service areas of 20 to 30 square kilometers, drones became significantly more efficient. Compared to e-vans, SADRs and drones required between approximately 60 and 80 percent as much energy per customer.
  • All methods of delivery examined created only a small fraction of the emissions that an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle would to perform the same number of deliveries.
      • The two brands of RADR examined, for example, created between 0.6 percent and 1.4 percent the emissions of an ICE van for customer bases ranging between 25 and 200 deliveries.
      • Under the same conditions, SADRs created up to 3.1 percent as many emissions, while drones created up to 5.8 percent as many. In both cases, the vehicles were most efficient for small customer bases.
  • The report analyzed whether delivery vehicles were more efficient than customers individually driving to the store in an electric vehicle. It found that the examined delivery methods resulted in fewer emissions in all cases, except if the delivery was performed with an ICE van.