We're shaping the future of deliveries with precision location and identification technology
Since releasing our DelivAir technology towards the end of last year, we’ve received some great feedback, and there has been some terrific enthusiasm generated by the tech. There have been doubts though about whether drone delivery services will ever really become a reality. We are often asked: can Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs or “drones”) ever mix safely with existing air traffic?
Recent news suggests that the Federal Aviation Authority in the US thinks so, and has selected the first set of technology companies to commence unmanned flight trials in the US, with big names like Apple, FedEx, Google and Microsoft all in the mix.
Aside from these household names, there’s a couple of other companies looking to capitalise on the opportunities of Unmanned Aerial Delivery (UAD) too. Flirtey wants to deliver packages using a winch, and Zipline wants to parachute packages to your back garden.
Until now, the use of UAVs has been restricted to well controlled airspace, and it has not been legal to fly autonomous vehicles beyond the line of sight of the pilot. In the US at least, this is now changing, which is a big step for the industry, and opens up a world of possibility around aerial automation.
This progress isn’t just limited to the US market; Zipline has already been operating successfully in Rwanda, delivering emergency medical supplies to remote facilities. Europe may seem a step behind, but preparations are already underway to kick-start the new aerial automation industry here in the UK.
A couple of months back, the air traffic provider in the UK, NATS, announced that they were partnering with Altitude Angel, a start-up aiming to provide systems and procedures to allow Universal Air Traffic Control, or UTM. With this partnership, NATS have said that they are aiming to begin testing UAV services towards the end of this year, with possible services beginning as early as 2019.
What might these services look like? If the US trial is anything to go by, they’ll be wide ranging. Possible projects are data capture for improved mapping services, monitoring and control of insect populations, and airport infrastructure and security.
Some other interesting applications we’d like to see trialled in the UK are search and rescue drones, ecological site monitoring and preservation, or maybe even “to the hand” parcel deliveries like our DelivAir concept. The key to success will be safety, and with UTM, aerial fail-safe systems, and robot swarm control already being put in place or applied in other technological fields, a new era of aerial robotic services seems ever closer.
My colleague Alexander Mauchle recently presented 'Last mile aerial delivery' at the Futuristics logistics conference, his presentation can be found here on SlideShare.