Posts tagged "Drone Delivery"

Amazon is among the companies that would benefit from package delivery by drones

By ROBBIE HARRIS

Expanded drone testing will soon take off in handful of localities around the country. It’s part of the plan to integrate the unpiloted aircraft into U.S. airspace for things like package delivery, emergency operations and more. President Trump issued an executive memorandum in October, authorizing the real-world testing program as a way to speed up the process and create new jobs. But concerns about widespread use of drones in public –and private—space remain.

The expanded drone testing pilot program, set to roll out this spring, will for the first time, allow the air craft to carry out test flights over people, at night, and to operate out of sight of their human controllers. The flights will be allowed in 5 designated areas only, yet to be chosen. And while to some the reality of drones actually outside hovering outside the window seems to have come out of nowhere.  Mark Blanks with the Mid Atlantic Aviation Partnership at Virginia Tech says, “The drone industry would say that things have not been moving quick enough. This is going very slowly. It’s taken 10 years.  We thought it would take just 2 or 3 years.

Blanks oversees drone testing at Virginia Tech.  It’s one of just six sites in the country chosen to study how to safely integrate drones into U.S. airspace.  For the last five years, the testing has been done under carefully controlled conditions, away from population centers, but that’s about to change. “I like to tell people that drones will directly interface with them in ways that normal aviation never has, never will, so we’re getting to a point now where we have to address the social concerns of how they’re going to interact with you as an individual.”

Some say, exploration of those concerns should have begun years ago.

Philip Olson, a professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences says, “When the FAA chose Virginia Tech to be the 6th site for studying drones, they had a research project that didn’t didn’t mention ethics. There was no sociological component to it. It was devoid of humanistic and sociological inquiries. It was just considered a technical issue.”

That led Olson and a colleague to bring their concern to the college administration, which, he explained, ultimately decided to fund research into the ethics of Drones.

The study comprised people from several departments and colleges at Virginia Tech. They ran several focus groups which included experts who had experience with drones, as well as well as people who did not.

“We were in these groups, these 5 focus groups and we weren’t even asking questions about gender or race but all the focus groups and all the conversations were just full of assumptions about race and gender. It was constantly present but not addressed.”

Those issues came up so often says Olson, that researchers ultimately based part of the title of their paper that came out of the focus groups on a phrase they heard over and over again – “Man in the loop.” It was the default way to discuss what role a human might play in a drone’s flight. And it raised issues about who is in control of drones and who might feel controlled by them. What populations might benefit and which might suffer under them.

Olson says,“ So it was interesting that the people who are working on the drones aren’t away of the ways in which assumptions about race and gender are informing their understanding of this technology and how it will be deployed.”

And that was eye opening for focus group participant, Engineering professor Craig Woolsey, who works closely with drones.  So much so that he decided to teach a course on drone ethics with a colleague who specializes in the field. It was a whole new teaching experience for him. “You certainly don’t teach it in the conventional way that I teach aircraft  flight mechanics.  You pose a question and you sort of engage the students and encourage them to ask lots of different questions and you listen.”

The class on drone ethics debuted last spring and Woolsey says it filled up fast.

The paper that came out of the Focus Groups on Drone ethics, written by Philip Olson and Christine Labuski is called “There’s Always a [White] Man in the Loop”: The Gendered and Racialized Politics of Civilian Drones. It will be published in the journal Social Studies of Science.

The deadline for localities to submit their proposals to become new drone test sites was Jan 4, 2018 week.  The F.A.A. expects to make its selections and have the program underway sometime this spring.

[embedded content]

This 6th edition of the Unmanned Cargo Aircraft conference organized by Jakajima will be hosted by North Carolina Global TransPark and supported by US Cargo Systems.

Scope: The Conference aims to bring together manufacturers, operators, knowledge institutes, consultants, shippers and government organizations active in the upcoming field of unmanned cargo aircraft.

Unmanned Cargo Aircraft (UCA) are a relatively new phenomenon; the first UCA service is to be started in Kenya this year. UCA offer the potential to transport loads of 1 to 10 tons or more over both short and long distances, on routes that are unfeasible or uneconomical for other modes of transport.

During the conference, internationally renowned speakers will introduce UCA development projects and potential applications.

Topics to be covered are:

  • UCA business models: how to earn money with UCA?
  • UCA configurations: what could – and should – UCA look like?
  • Regulation: where are UCA allowed to fly, and under which conditions?
  • Societal benefits: what can UCA contribute to economic and social development?
  • Industrial participation: how can UCA contribute to innovation and what opportunities do they generate for new enterprises?
  • Market analysis

Target group: Shippers | Carriers | Research institutions | Military | Aircraft manufacturers | System Integrators | ICT suppliers | Logistic service suppliers | Entrepreneurs | Investors | Airports | Governmental Institutions | Cargo Companies | Fulfilment companies | Retailers | E-tailers | Consultants | Air navigation service providers | Civil aviation authorities | Data and software providers | Infrastructure operators | Telecommunication companies

It is a unique opportunity to exchange ideas and network with this pioneering community of unmanned cargo researchers, engineers, business developers and end-users.

Project Wing drone in Australian skies

The following summary and accompanied images from a Project Wing blogpost provide an insight on what they’ve recently tested, discovered as well as their ongoing focus.

The last few years has seen Project Wing conducting thousands of flights to get their drone delivery technology ready for everyday use. More recently they’ve been testing in an Australian rural community and stepping it up to an entirely different level of operational complexity- making deliveries directly to people’s yards.

Their testers – alpaca farmers, math professors, equestrians, and artists have been helping them fine-tune how their drones move goods from where they’re located to where they’re needed.

Project Wing drone lowering burrito package

Guzman y Gomez – a Mexican food chain and Chemist Warehouse – a chain of pharmacies are the two Australian merchants who are keen in understanding how drone deliveries could help serve their clients better. At first, merchants receive orders from their testers who’ve purchased items using the Project Wing app. The drone pilots then dispatch their drones to pick up the order from the partners’ loading sites and transport the goods
to the testers at their residences.

Drone delivering to tester’s yard

Alleviating day-to- day inconvenience

Residents near the Project Wing testing area on the outskirts of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) live an idyllic country lifestyle on 10-acre blocks of rolling land. But they face a 40-minute round trip in a car for almost anything, whether it’s a carton of milk, veggies for dinner, or even a cup of coffee.

The Project Wing testers – including young families, busy professionals and retirees – had many suggestions for how drone technology could address this fundamental inconvenience. They wanted fresh meals delivered at dinner time. Some who run small businesses at home wanted to be able to send customer orders from their doorstep. A few with farms wanted supplies to arrive at their paddocks, or spare parts delivered to the ailing vehicle on their property. Almost all said that they’d value having medicine delivered to their door, especially when they’re unwell.

They also shared ideas about delivery drones being used to transport drinking water, food, medical supplies, and mechanical parts to emergency service workers operating in rural areas or places cut off due to floods and fires.

Tester with Project Wing package

Identifying safe and convenient delivery locations

Last year at Virginia Tech, their first deliveries with members of the public were in an open field, not to a specific address or location. Now with each delivery, Project Wing encounter a new yard space with its own layout of trees, sheds, fences, and power lines. This means that in addition to learning what people want delivered – they also have to learn how to best deliver specific items to people.

Their drones are able to deliver items almost anywhere - backyards, public parks, farmlands or even fire-breaks. However they need to train their systems to reliably identify safe and convenient delivery locations, which is more complicated than it looks. They want to incorporate customer preferences - e.g. many of their testers prefer packages delivered to backyards so they’re not visible from the road or near kitchens so food items can be unpacked quickly. Therefore they have to be ready to accommodate changing conditions at the delivery location.

While their Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) platform allows them to pre-plan a flight route, the sensors on their aircraft are responsible for identifying obstacles that might appear during a flight or delivery, like a car parked in an unexpected spot or outdoor furniture that’s been moved. The more test deliveries they do, exposing the sensors on their aircraft to new delivery locations – the smarter their aircraft’s algorithms will one
day become at picking a safer spots for deliveries.

Loading and delivering packages smoothly and quickly

To operate an effective drone delivery system, Project Wing must be able to pick up packages from anyone in almost any location. This presents an interesting design challenge – their technology must be intuitive and easy to use, so packages can be loaded and received without any specialized infrastructure and by people without specialized experience.

Their partners Guzman y Gomez and Chemist Warehouse will teach them what they need to do to ensure that orders are fed smoothly to their staff so that the goods can be comfortably loaded onto the delivery drones. In the case of Guzman y Gomez, who is their first delivery partner for this trial – Project Wing need to make sure their technology fits in efficiently within the merchant’s kitchen operations as staff deal with many orders at
once to ensure that every customer is served fresh, hot food in a timely fashion. Project Wing will also discover how much notice to give them for a drone’s arrival so that they can cook, pack and load in a seamless manner.

Guzman Y Gomez staff member packing food

Through their partnership with Chemist Warehouse, they want to ensure their system is able to support merchants with a wide variety of products. As part of this test, they’re offering nearly 100 products across categories like vitamins, dental care, sun care and over-the- counter medicines. By practicing how they pack items of very different shapes and sizes into their fixed-sized package – they’ll learn how to optimize how many
items they’re able to deliver per flight.

The information they gather from both of these test partners will help Project Wing build a system in a way that merchants of all kinds can focus on what they’re good at – like making food or helping people feel healthier - rather than being distracted by complex delivery logistics.

The Project Wing crew are expecting the next few months to be filled with unexpected challenges as they undertake these new tests. They are grateful to the communities in the ACT and Queanbeyan regions who have let them into their yards so they can learn even more about building a delivery network ready to fly in the open skies.

Guzman Y Gomez staff member loading drone

The drones

Since the project’s inception, drone-based delivery has been one of the core goals. Traditional quadcopters are potentially unsuitable for serving rural areas which are far from towns and cities. At the same time, these places areas are the ones which can potentially benefit most from UAV-based delivery networks.

Project Wing drones have been designed to incorporate the best aspects of fixed-wing aircraft. They can travel long distances at high speeds using comparatively little power. They are a classic rotary-wing drone which can take off and land without a runway as well as hover in one spot too.

As part of Project Wing’s upcoming tests – they will help the ACT Rural Fire Service assess how their technology could aid their efforts.

Up close – Project Wing drone in Australian skies

Acknowledgements

A personal thank you to Google’s – Project Wing team for sharing their insights on these exciting new developments.

The drone superhighway will need a network of charging stations to power it.

A FOUR PART SERIES

This article is the final in a four-part series so if you haven’t read the previous parts please go back and start where you left off. In part one, I introduced the groundbreaking work currently being done to lay the foundations of the upcoming drone superhighway. In part two, I wrote about how the drone superhighway will require a new air traffic management system that includes drones and current legal hurdles that need to be addressed. Last week in part three, I wrote of beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) drone operation, the possibility of fully autonomous drones, and how Trump administration policies could be used to advance the drone superhighway.

This week I will go over the need for new energy solutions and how the reduced costs of drone technology will play an important role in making the drone superhighway a cost effective network.

Energy Solutions—Better Batteries and Docking Stations

Reliable and longer lasting power sources are vital for the success of the drone superhighway. Right now, the new DJI Matrice 200 has one of the best performance specs of commercially available drones. However, its two lithium-ion batteries only give it a flight time of 38 minutes.

Obviously better batteries are needed, but the real issue here is that battery technology hasn’t been able to keep pace with other technological advancements. Drones are still slaves to the performance of lithium-ion batteries that are not only dangerous, but also fairly inefficient.

Canadian company Nano One is aiming to improve lithium-ion batteries with a new manufacturing technique that decreases cost and improves performance. Nano One’s patented method uses a chemical rather than mechanical process to produce the cathode for a lithium-ion battery. This chemical process creates nanometer-sized crystals which makes the battery last longer and perform better.

https://nanoone.ca/

Speaking of lithium-ion batteries, in March 2017 their creator John Goodenough announced he has developed a new solid-state sodium-ion battery that could triple the range of a drone and allow it to operate at much lower temperatures (-4℉).

Other promising battery technologies are lithium-air batteries that have 15 times more capacity than lithium-ion batteries and gold nanowire batteries that don’t degrade with use. Only time will tell how quickly these new battery designs can go from a lab to mass production.

Another possible power source is hydrogen fuel cells. Simply put, hydrogen fuel cells convert hydrogen into electricity through a chemical reaction of positively charged hydrogen ions with oxygen. Chinese company MMC already has a hydrogen fuel cell drone on the market. The 6-rotor HyDrone 1550 can operate for up to 2.5 hours and is marketed for industrial use. However, this kind of power source requires a hydrogen fuel tank in order to operate. While hydrogen fuel cell drones offer some intriguing possibilities for local use, they don’t make a lot of sense for a drone superhighway because they would require facilities that would have to replenish, or switch out a hydrogen tank.

Batteries will eventually improve but the demand for drones to carry heavier payloads for delivery and other functions will largely offset these advances and probably not drastically increase flight times. This is why there is a fundamental need for a network of charging stations along the path of the drone superhighway that can quickly recharge a wide variety of drones.

Drones will have to land and charge.

Up Sonder is working on a solution that involves developing a charging station that costs only $100 per unit. A lot of what we are working on is proprietary information, but there are some things I can share with you about the Up Sonder charging station.

  • Rapid wireless charging: if you want to be fast, wireless is the only way to go, it also helps the unit to be more weather-proof.
  • Autonomous precision landing: the charging station must communicate and guide a     drone to land in a precise location to charge.
  • Compatible: the wireless charging station will have to work with a wide variety of drone systems.
  • Intelligent charging: the station will have to be able to monitor a drone’s current power level and charge accordingly to optimize battery life.

Our goal is to create an interconnect network of over 200,000 charging stations across the nation to power the drone superhighway.

Cost Effectiveness

Ten years ago if I wanted a drone with a 20-megapixel camera, five dedicated sensors for obstacle avoidance, as well as the ability to recognize and follow people, it would easily cost me tens of thousands of dollars. But today I can get all that (and more) standard in a DJI Phantom 4 Pro for just $1,499.

In terms of what they offer, drones are cheaper today than they have ever been. Drones also offer companies a much easier way to achieve return on investment (ROI). In some cases drones are replacing manned aircraft for tasks like aerial surveying because they are so much cheaper. For example, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is looking into using drones to conduct aerial surveys at small airports across the state. According to their own estimates, an aerial survey by a manned charter plane would cost around $100,000 while a drone survey would only cost $2,500. That is a savings of $97,500!

There is also a reason why so many companies are interested in drone delivery — hint, hint because it saves them money! Our friend over at Drone Girl, Sally French, broke down a report from Skylark Services earlier this month that demonstrated that Amazon estimates the cost of the last mile of delivery is $2.50, whereas drones can complete that last mile for an estimated $1.74.

We have almost hit the sweet spot where all the technology needed to make the drone superhighway a reality can be provided at a reasonable cost. Give it a few more years and things will be ready for sure, if regulators allow it.

The Future

In the future, the Up Sonder community will be able to send things to each other via drone.

As the CEO of a company leading the charge to make the drone superhighway a reality, I’m excited about the possibilities it offers for the future. I’ll leave you with one teaser for the members of the Up Sonder community.
Think how cool it would be if one day you needed a cup of sugar to bake a cake, but instead of driving over to the grocery store, you hopped on the Up Sonder app and had a fellow community member deliver the sugar to you via drone! It might sound crazy, but we are working on it!

Derek Waleko is CEO of Up Sonder, the first on-demand drone and service rental platform powered by UberRUSH, specifically designed for drone pilots and drone owners to earn extra money.

Drone CommunicationDrone communication is important for the drone superhighway

Last week, I wrote about drone traffic management systems and legal hurdles to the drone superhighway. If you haven’t already read part one and two of this four-part series be sure to go back and start at the beginning. Also, check out Up Sonder to find out more about how my company is building a marketplace of drone pilots and drones to unlock the economic possibility of the drone superhighway.

This week, we’ll look at a beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) drone operation, the possibility of fully autonomous drones and how Trump administration policies could be used to advance the drone superhighway. It’s a lot to cover, so let’s dig in!

BVLOS and Flying Over People:

There is no way of getting around it, drone superhighways will require both BVLOS operation and flight over people. Unfortunately, right now according to FAA regulations without a special exemption, drones are required to stay within the line-of-sight of the operator or spotter and cannot fly directly over people. The FAA is not against BVLOS or drone flights over people, it just wants to make sure it’s done safely.

For BVLOS, the concern is that, unlike manned aircraft, drones don’t have enough self-awareness of their surroundings. Luckily technology, like advanced sensors and machine learning is quickly making this concern invalid. FAA approval of BVLOS drone operations really hinges on two points, implementation of a functioning drone traffic management system (already discussed) and the ability of drones to operate autonomously (I will address this more below).

Luckily some very smart folks at NASA, Harris Corp, and BNSF Railways are helping the FAA research how to make BVLOS a safe reality. Back in October of 2016, NASA was able to fly two drones BVLOS into a designated area and successfully keep the drones from running into each other using technology they are developing to assist in drone traffic management.

Credits: NASA Ames / Dominic Hart

​This February, Harris Corp and the University of North Dakota received a grant to develop an integrated network infrastructure for BVLOS drone operations. This includes everything from using cell phone towers to help find location, to machine learning that allows drones to detect obstacles and avoid them. Harris partnered with Ligado Networks in early May to use a commercial satellite with the largest antenna in North America for BVLOS navigation. The satellite’s 22-meter length (over 72 feet) gives it the ability to communicate with small devices like a drone over a large area. The exciting thing about Harris’ work is that after initial testing they plan on partnering with end users, like a utility company, to test BVLOS at their North Dakota test site.

BNSF Railway and Rockwell Collins have been testing BVLOS drone operations using a more down-to-earth approach. BNSF can communicate and control drones with a data link network that uses both radio spectrum and telecommunications infrastructure. The system automatically determines the best tower-to-drone link for control and can transfer control of the drone between towers during flight. This has given them the ability to test long-distance BVLOS operations for drones that are inspecting railway tracks.

The FAA’s concern with drones flying over people is public safety. What happens if a drone falls from the sky? What if a drone is being flown over groups of people with criminal intent? These are very real safety concerns the FAA cannot ignore.

The FAA has partnered with a number of universities to test the physical dangers of drones falling on people. Schools like Virginia Tech have been busy slamming drones into crash test dummies and a recently released report found a drone was not as dangerous as a block of wood or piece of steel when falling from a height of 50 feet. While the test is promising, the FAA will need more tests before it allows flights over people. A test on airborne drone collisions will reportedly be released this summer, so keep your eyes open for that.

[embedded content]

There is also a need to quickly identify drones when they act badly, particularly around large groups of people. Leading drone manufacturer DJI has stepped up to the plate and proposed an electronic identification system for all drones that would require drones to automatically broadcast identification information. If a standard can be created and applied to all drones, it will act as a digital license plate and will allow authorities to more easily track a problematic drone and find out who is operating it.

All of this testing is building a strong case that drones can operate safely BVLOS and over people. Hopefully, this will convince the FAA to revise current restrictions. One thing that could make this easier is the Trump Administration’s 2-for-1 executive order on regulations. A single revision to Part 107 to allow BVLOS and flight over people would eliminate four waiver regulations (107.31, 107.33, 107.39, 107.51).

Autonomous Drones:

OK, before we talk about autonomous drones any further, let’s get one thing straight…just because a drone is autonomous doesn’t mean it is going to go rogue and turn into a flying Terminator. For simplicity’s sake, we are talking about drones that can fly from point A to point B without any human interaction.

To fly autonomously, drones must be able to sense and avoid obstacles near them, communicate with other aircraft and air traffic control, be aware of changing environmental conditions like weather, have a fail-safe protocol in case of emergencies, etc. It’s a lot to do, but luckily the technology is mostly there. What must happen now is intensive testing to make sure autonomous drone flight is safe and scalable at size.

There is a lot of testing currently going on, here are three cool examples:

1-US company Matternet has partnered with the Swiss Post to successfully carry out 70 autonomous drone delivery tests in Switzerland. The Swiss Aviation Authority is supporting these tests and the plan is to make the drone deliveries between two hospitals in the city of Lugano a permanent situation by 2018.

[embedded content]

2-Engineers at NVIDIA have successfully tested autonomous drone flight through a path in a forest using deep learning and Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM). The deep learning lets the drone orient itself and follow the dirt path and the SLAM (same technology used on autonomous cars) allows the drone to map the area around it and avoid obstacles. While testing is still ongoing, the ability to connect machine learning with obstacle avoidance is an important step in autonomous drone flight.

3-The US Air Force takes the cake for most advanced testing with its Loyal Wingman Project. The idea is to create autonomous aircraft that are paired with a manned aircraft to act as the manned aircraft’s wingmen. These drone wingmen are supposed to do everything from carry out attacks on enemies to protect the manned aircraft. In the last few months the Air Force has reportedly “successfully demonstrated” the concept using F-16s as drones in tests at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

According to a press release from Lockheed Martin (who is involved in the project), the testing successfully showed the following:

  • the ability to autonomously plan and execute air-to-ground strike missions and
  • the ability to dynamically react to a changing threat environment during an air-to-ground strike mission while automatically managing contingencies for capability failures, route deviations, and loss of communication.

In Israel they have moved beyond testing. Airobotics has built a fully autonomous drone system that is designed to conduct survey and security missions for industrial applications. The Civil Authority of Israel has given Airobotics full approval to operate autonomous drones in Israeli airspace.

Airobotic’s Optimus drone system houses a drone in a box where it is protected and is able to recharge itself. When tasked with a mission, the drone will take off and autonomously conduct the mission before returning to its housing unit. What is even more amazing is that Airobotics is testing using this proven technology for emergency response in less predictable and more congested urban airspace.

Next week, in the fourth and final part of this series, I will discuss energy solutions to power the drone superhighway and look to the future about how everything mentioned here can be cost effective enough to be widely implemented.

Stay tuned!

Derek Waleko is CEO of Up Sonder, the first on-demand drone and service rental platform powered by UberRUSH, specifically designed for drone pilots and drone owners to earn extra money.

When Trumark Urban officially unveiled luxury condo tower Ten50 in Downtown Los Angeles last month, they wowed potential buyers with a bevy of amenities. Clearly those buyers were paying attention, and paying security deposits, because the Los Angeles Downtown News is reporting that units are already 60 percent sold.

The 24-story, 151-unit building ranges from the low $600,000s for one-bedrooms and goes up to $4,000,000 for the penthouse units. Living here also gives you access to a resort-style pool, fitness studio, yoga deck, screening room, and private dining room. The standout feature, however, has to be the drone-ready landing pad where you can receive deliveries without ever leaving the building.

Trumark Urban managing director Arden Hearing told LADN that they expect every unit to be sold by the end of 2017.

A large part of the reason for the building’s quick success has to be the fact that it’s the rare condo complex in a region full of apartments. That’s not going to change too much in the near future either: Of the 7,645 new residential units proposed for DTLA in 2016’s fourth quarter, just 1,200 were condos.

The luxury lifestyle, amenities, and location in Downtown L.A. certainly seal the deal, but just by existing these condos are already ahead of the market.

Rendering via SteelBlue

Ordering clothes, electronics and other items from sites like Amazon and eBay is a great way to enjoy the convenience of online shopping, but no one likes to wait for their packages to be delivered.

Companies like Amazon have started to explore the world of drone deliveries for small, lightweight packages, and now UPS has started to take the first steps, too. Will you see your UPS packages delivered by drones soon?

Starting With Drone Tests

UPS has officially delivered its first package by drone in a test flight. The drone rests on the top of a specially designed UPS delivery truck, and packages can be loaded onto the drone from a hatch in the roof of the truck. This provides the drones with more range than they would be able to achieve if they were being launched from a fixed location.

These tests are designed to expand rural deliveries that might be far off of the regular delivery routes. Instead of driving the delivery truck off the beaten path, using up extra fuel, the driver can just send out the drone to deliver the package and continue on with their route. The drone catches up with the driver later on their route, so they don’t have to worry about waiting for the delivery or going back to retrieve the drone.

More Than a Marketing Stunt

People perceived drones deliveries as just a marketing stunt for quite a while, before Google delivered a bunch of Chipotle burritos by drone, and both Amazon and JD.com started deploying their drone fleets overseas.

UPS has found that reducing their routes by one mile could save the company upwards of $50 million every single year. Utilizing drones for rural routes, where a driver might have to drive multiple miles out of their way for a single package, could reduce costs dramatically.

Not Quite Ready Yet

While these drones might have had their maiden voyage, they’re not quite ready to deliver your Amazon packages just yet.

First, during the test flights, the drone had to operate within line of sight of the operator, as per current FAA regulations. Though delivery services in full capacity would likely be exempt since they are programmed autonomously, there isn’t any air-traffic control structure in place for these autonomous drones. That would need to be in place before delivery drones could be launched full scale, and it could be at least a few years before that happens.

Second, one of the trials didn’t go as well as they were hoping. During the second test, the drone glitched, tried to abort its launch and ended up nearly crushed.

The Future of the Delivery Drone

The FAA is still trying to iron out all the rules for commercial drone use, especially when you’re talking about drones that will be operating out of sight of their launch points. In general, though, it appears that the general public is in favor of drone deliveries as long as they are done safely and in such as way that the chance of failure or injury is reduced.

You don’t need to watch the skies just yet for your latest Amazon or eBay delivery, but it probably won’t be too long before you can order something small and have it delivered by drone. All we’re really waiting on right now is for the FAA to figure out the best way to regulate commercial drone usage. Once that is done, you’ll probably see Amazon and UPS drones delivering all sorts of packages.

If Google has their way, you might even be able to order your favorite burritos to be delivered hot and fresh to your front door. Drone deliveries are definitely the future of online commerce, so it’s only a matter of time before they finally make their way into our skies.

Airspace integration and management solutions for drones continue to garner new investment, but most options are based on fairytale scenarios and raise more questions than answers.

I’ve been doing research on the commercial drone industry since early 2012, and it never ceases to amaze me how much hype there is.  A week doesn’t go by where I find a new fantasy forecast or see an announcement on how this or that drone networking solution is “game changing.”

How real are those claims that drones will one day be filling our skies and delivering packages? Where and when will we see massive industry growth and is that growth dependent on the existence of a drone network?  In this post, I’ll go over a few misconceptions, discuss the harsh reality, and offer two lessons learned that I hope will help make the conversation a bit more rational.

The hype

Question: How much spin is out there on drone networks?  Answer: A lot.

Take this piece, for example: In The Drone Network of Tomorrow (It’s Closer Than You Think). The author wants you to believe that the drone network of tomorrow is a few hurdles away.  In this futuristic world, users will remotely dispatch multiple drones right from their offices. They’ll specify the flight path, and the drones will fly there autonomously and collect data. In this world, there will be drones-for-hire stationed at key locations and you will just click on button to summon them at your command. It will be “the Internet of drones” and it will be accomplished via the LTE network, the same network to which every smartphone is connected today.

Investors buy it.

Read The Big Money Continues to Bet on Drones, which discusses Verizon’s recent acquisition of Skyward. Read Airmap’s own take on their announcement of $26 million in Series B funding from Microsoft, Airbus, Qualcomm, Yuneec, and Sony, with Microsoft leading the round.

The press buys it.

Read this recent article in Recode. It says:

Drones are, after all, flying computers that connect to the internet—connectivity on a drone is often used to share flight information with other drones, report to air traffic control or send aerial imaging back in real time to the operator.

I bought it, too.

In December 2014, I wrote Why Drones Are the Future of the Internet of Things.

But since that time I’ve done a lot a research to find evidence supporting industry claims, and the truth is, at every turn I’ve come up empty handed and found many misconceptions.

The misconceptions

Many in the industry have worked together to move forward the various Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) projects. UTM refers to efforts to build an air traffic management infrastructure for drones, such as the NASA-FAA UTM project and GUTMA. Those initiatives are a collaboration between government regulators and private industry partners. At the center of those initiatives is the enablement of routine beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS–sometimes just BLOS) operations for commercial drones. Good. We need that. To see some of that work, download the latest presentations from the 2016 UTM Conference here.

While the NASA-FAA UTM initiative may have started out with some simple solutions, it’s now blossomed into an expensive “one-size-fits-all” behemoth that is proposing ways to control flight scenarios that don’t need them—those flights where no data exists showing any risk those operations pose to the NAS or nonparticipants on the ground. That hasn’t stopped UTM participants, along with the Drone Advisory Committee (DAC), though, from suggesting those controls.

I think it’s a good idea that’s gone bad. I am not alone in perceiving that many UTM and DAC participants think their charter is to integrate the Internet and the cellular network into the National Airspace System (NAS). The leader of GUTMA thinks his organization can do for drones what ICANN does for the Internet. Face palm.

Now, the snowball effect is these companies (and investors) believe drones are Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices that are going to magically multiply like rabbits once we have a drone network. Truth is, drones aren’t IoT devices; they’re data-gathering aircraft.  Yes, they collect data that looks a lot like the data from an IoT device in motion (see my presentation on that here), but equating them with IoT devices assumes way too much—like the need for constant connectivity to the Internet, for one. Here’s a clue: Drones from DJI, the dominant market share leader, don’t have it, nor do 99.9% of drones that operate in the NAS today.

The harsh reality

So, to put it bluntly, the vision of tens of millions of drones flying in the NAS alongside manned aircraft is overstated. Visionaries like to point to the 100,000 or so flights that happen today as the bellwether indicator of what’s to come. They point to the headlines that say package delivery drones will fill the skies as reality. But drone delivery has been seriously debunked, and the bellwether argument is a non-sequitur. The vast majority of the flights happening today happen in uncontrolled Class G airspace, happen around 200-300 feet above ground level, happen without any automated traffic control interaction, and happen without incident.

Also, our research says the growth of drone use by industries will be much more measured than the hyped growth figures that visionaries tout, and the bulk of operations will happen mostly as they do today within visual line of sight (LOS).  We don’t see huge volumes for BVLOS operations happening for many, many years—if at all. There are other factors hindering drone adoption beside regulations and air traffic control.  There are other reasons why companies will stick with incumbent technology like satellites and manned aircraft.  We have written much about hype in the drone industry, and if that’s new to you, then you can start your research with this SlideShare.

Two lessons to take to heart

Regulators and experienced military users know flying drones safely and securely in BVLOS operations is not easy. Because of its complexity, we now have a new term in aviation: Performance Based Navigation (PBN). PBN describes requirements for separating aircraft and avoiding collision. PBN is a combination of systems both on and off of the aircraft that affect its ability to navigate. And that takes us to our first lesson.

Lesson 1: Buried in the recent announcement of regular BVLOS flights of Aeryon SkyRangers at the Foremost UAS Range in Alberta was the fact that Ventus Geospatial had to meet very stringent criteria from Transport Canada (Canada’s civil aviation authority). The requirements prescribe a host PBN including:

  • Sense-and-avoid system to provide traffic separation and a means for collision avoidance. That system will have to detect the traffic in time to process the sensor information, determine if a conflict exists, and execute a maneuver according to the right-of-way rules.  That system must possess the capability to detect both cooperative aircraft (aircraft with a means of electronic conspicuity (transponder, TCAS, ADS-B, etc.)) and non-cooperative aircraft.
  • Some ground-based radar systems may be utilized to provide a means of meeting sense and avoid requirements.
  • Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) / Airborne Collision Avoidance System (ACAS) that employs a collision avoidance system with reactive logic, so that any maneuver resulting from a perceived threat from another aircraft will not reduce the effectiveness of a TCAS/ACAS resolution advisory maneuver from that other aircraft.
  • Automated Dependent Surveillance Broadcast System (ADS-B), with the caveat that ADS-B does not have the ability to detect non-cooperative aircraft, it is not an approved strategy, in and of itself, for mitigating the UAV sense and avoid requirements.
  • Use of multilateration, which is a type of secondary surveillance system that is based on the use of conventional transponders and stationary receivers that provide an aircraft’s position using triangulation principles.
  • Separation and Collision Avoidance Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) addressing:
    • Take-off/launch and landing/recovery procedures;
    • En-route and terminal procedures;
    • Loss of control data link; and
    • Abort procedures following critical system failure.

I could go on, but you get the point. There’s no uber-integrated automation system for PBN and there won’t be for a long time.

Lesson 2: Major General James Poss writes about his experiences with the early days of managing military drone systems in It’s the Data Link, Stupid. He says:

A commercial drone ground relay LOS network would have advantages and disadvantages compared to the Air Force system. Advantages are that existing cell phone tower networks are ideally positioned to provide the backbone for ground relay LOS networks for commercial drones. Cell phone companies have already leased the land, dealt with all the FCC regulatory restrictions and, most importantly, obtained the spectrum that could be used for BLOS drone link operations. They also have world class cyber defense centers.  The disadvantage is that today’s providers struggle to get enough bandwidth for existing cell phone coverage as it is, their cell tower antennas point down to cover ground users, vice up to cover drones, and their 4G link reliability won’t be high enough to satisfy FAA BLOS requirements. For something as critical as BLOS drone control, the FAA won’t tolerate ‘dropped calls’.  It’s that reliability thing, again.

He goes on to say:

Problems would remain even with this type of system. Although low bandwidth directional drone links using commercially available spectrum wouldn’t use scarce 4G service spectrum, they would take up physical space on already overcrowded cellphone towers. Directional antennas are expensive and must be positioned carefully to avoid radio frequency interference.

And I’m afraid 5G (the next-generation of mobile networks beyond the 4G LTE mobile networks of today) isn’t a silver bullet. Right now, forecasters say 5G adoption will be slow and most of that extra bandwidth will be used by consumers for mobile video viewing.

But General Poss raises great points. Why would anyone invest in these systems if they’re riskier than either military drones or manned aircraft, particularly when the regulatory environment is unclear?  Just how would the FAA regulate a drone network? If the control portion of the network would be an aviation safety critical system, would the FAA even have the authority to regulate it when it’s the Federal Communication Commission’s charter to regulate cellular communications?

All I can tell you is, Buckle up and stay tuned in. It’s going to be a long bumpy ride.

Technology is developing. More and more devices and machines are becoming “smart.” With connection to the internet, they connect to each other and present endless opportunities.

Robot delivery has climbed high on the tech development agenda.  

Catching the attention of headlines and Super Bowl fans, drone delivery services are swiftly approaching the commercial market. Amazon has taken the lead in this development race and gave a 10-second sneak peek teaser of “Prime Air.”

In December, drone delivery made its first successful go-round in a rural corner of England, where it has been beta-testing. Carrying up to five pounds, drones can deliver in under 30 minutes. In the future, nearby drone delivery warehouses will provide thousands of product options.  

With vertically rising drones flying up to 400 feet in the air, the sky is no longer the limit.

THE PROCESS OF DRONE DELIVERY

Though not quite ready, Amazon promised it would be available “soon.” But after the successful beta-tests in England, drone confidence is rising.

Amazon’s speedy delivery service “Prime Now” is already offered in select markets. While these deliveries can be made in under an hour, the service depends on human drivers. Which also makes it subject to traffic conditions.

Battery-operated delivery drones can travel about 15 miles away. They have the ability to sense and avoid both air and land-based obstacles. Using a GPS system, the delivery drones can quickly generate the best route and even communicate with each other.

Like so much of today’s tech operations, users can use communicate with delivery drones via smart phones. Users can use their smart phone to select delivery options such as: “Bring it to Me,” “Home,” “Work,” and “My Boat.” Additionally, if the customer relocates, the drones can redirect mid-route.

While apartment buildings are still a bit complicated for drone routes, doorstep delivery throughout neighborhoods has been easily mastered.

Amazon has invested nearly $1.5 billion to create an air cargo hub in Kentucky for further drone development. The project will provide over 2,000 jobs to work on aero plane development.

Though giant screen TV’s will still require a typical truck delivery, special drone warehouses will make selections from tech gadgets to movie snacks quickly available. However, as drone weight options increase through future development, their useful applications will extend far beyond simple convenience deliveries.

THE FEDEX DELIVERY SERVICE RIVALRY

Right now Amazon holds a clear lead in futuristic delivery services. The leading online retailer made a smart move with the Super Bowl commercial snippets. They’re an excellent delivery service with a winning online medium between buyers and suppliers.

Now FedEx is clamoring for attention, working to gain grounds in delivery services.

FedEx wants to increase their user-friendliness in delivery. They have just announced an e-commerce solution for integrated supply chain distribution. They’re providing a logistics network for small and medium-sized businesses in special warehouse storing.

Their focus is on improved automation. As a third-party logistics provider, FedEx transports packages to businesses and consumer’s doorsteps cheaply.  The e-commerce delivery service has cultivated a reputation for reliability.

FedEx is delivering products for companies that have already developed their own online presence, so their improvement approaches have been a bit different. Logo specialization has recently been made available to businesses. While their products are shipping from FedEx warehouses, these companies now have the option to have packages shipped with their unique logo.

FedEx’s chief information officer, Rob Carter, has recently announced emerging AI and robotics tech initiatives. Part of that investment focuses on autonomous truck driving development, which could completely reshape FedEx delivery.

Your FedEx package may someday be delivered by a robot.

Whether its Amazon, FedEx or Uber, autonomous delivery and transportation technologies are developing fast.

Guest Contribution by Allison Crady, a Marketing Specialist for a commercial construction conglomerate, including CDF Distributors and Fast Partitions. She spends most of her time researching and writing about a myriad of industry topics, including innovative construction, home improvement, urban trends, and city planning.

After Rwanda made waves in the news early last year for allegedly being the first country to approve drone delivery, people payed attention. The country, with its rolling hills and one of the fastest growing economies in Central Africa has already established regulations regarding drones and become a vanguard of sorts for the region.

“My impression is that there is a huge market in Africa at the moment,” said Francesco Nex, assistant professor at the ITC Faculty, University of Twente. “They are growing very fast, with a shortage of surveying and maps available.” Nex recently taught photogrammetry for an applied drone mapping training at INES-Ruhengeri Institute in Rwanda, along with his colleagues Rohan Bennett, and Anton Vrieling.

The Netherlands annually sponsors such continued education events for former students of Dutch institutes, and for 2016 the University of Twente organized a course in Rwanda on the latest drone mapping techniques. “They were very, very, enthusiastic,” Nex said of the 196 applicants, from which they selected 20 students from 8 neighboring countries. “Most of them asked me very specific questions for specific problems. They really knew what they were looking for and had big expectations for this course and the use of drones.”

The training consisted of three parts: making orthophoto maps, 3D reconstructions, and topography models from UAV images in Pix4Dmapper software; mapping applications in land administration, and mapping applications in food security.

The ability to map a crop using multispectral images to better understand its quality has potential to expand the practice of precision agriculture. Gerald Forkuor, lead remote sensing scientist for WASCAL and training attendee, explained that the predominance of subsistence farming in the region means small field sizes, which require a cheap and efficient imaging system to capture them. In addition, “Persistent cloud cover prevents optical sensors from acquiring cloud-free images during the main cropping season,” said Forkuor. “Knowledge of how UAVs can support in reducing such effects is very necessary.”

Leonard Sweta, training attendee and GIS analyst at the Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) in Kenya, stated that learning how to create 3D models and calculate vegetation indices in Pix4Dmapper were the most valuable part of the training. He aims to derive new techniques in land innovation and agriculture from them.

“The idea was to explain how to use UAV images to update maps, for cadastral,” said Nex. “Most of the country has cadastral maps that are very out of date — from flights done sometimes over 20 years ago. There are also big informal settlements. This means there are large areas where you don’t know what’s going on.” Where there are mapping agencies with aircraft in the region, often sensors are not included and need to be rented, creating an impractical and expensive solution.

Mireille Biraro, head of the department of land administration and management at INES-Ruhengeri, attended the course to learn Pix4D’s drone photogrammetry workflow for land administration activities. “In Rwanda, we used aerial images to register land.” Said Biraro. “But those images were captured with a plane. UAVs can be a potential tool to acquire new imagery to update the existing.”

As in Rwanda, drones are beginning to be recognized around the world as a powerful surveying solution. Accessible in terms of price and availability, their sensors quickly capture data that can be turned into valuable topographical and agricultural information in Pix4Dmapper software. Eyes are on Rwanda as it uses, and spreads knowledge of, drone photogrammetry solutions.

To learn more about Pix4D drone photogrammetry, Click Here.