AI News, VertiKUL UAV Explores Practicalities of Delivery Drones
VertiKUL UAV Explores Practicalities of Delivery Drones
We’ve been skeptical about delivery drones ever since Amazon made it sound like delivery drones were 1.) easy and 2.) right around the corner.
It’s great that quadcopters and other drones powered by rotorscan do all that fancy hovering and stuff, but there’s a reason why we all get crammed into airplanes to fly anywhere: passive wings that generate lift without having to rapidly spin in circles are much more efficient.
We don’t have data from KU Leuven on how much more efficient the robot is, but we do know that it currently has a 30 kilometer range, and that it’s scary fast: “We did not yet lower the pitch up to an optimal angle of attack (about 7 degrees) because then it flies too fast out of view.” Awesome.When it’s vertical, though, thosewings are probably a big part of the reason why the researchers are finding it difficult to control the robot when it’s windy.
Amazon reveals new delivery drone design with range of 15 miles
The company said it has developed more than a dozen prototypes in the past few years at RD centers in the U.S., United Kingdom, and Israel, and that the “look and characteristics of the vehicles will evolve over time.” Amazon adds that it “will not launch Prime Air until we are able to demonstrate safe operations.” “Prime Air has great potential to enhance the services we already provide to millions of customers by providing rapid parcel delivery that will also increase the overall safety and efficiency of the transportation system,” the company wrote. “Putting Prime Air into service will take some time, but we will deploy when we have the regulatory support needed to realize our vision.” The Federal Aviation Administration is currently developing regulations for both recreational drones and commercial delivery drones, which companies like Amazon, Walmart, and Google are all working on.
Amazon Reveals New Details About Drone Deliveries
Amazon can already deliver items to some customers just hours after they’ve been ordered.
But the online retailer says that time window will shrink down to just 30 minutes if it can deliver packages via drones through its Amazon Prime Air service.
It’s unclear exactly if or when the program will launch, especially since regulators have yet to establish clear-cut rules around commercial drone use.
Amazon’s marketplace offers a broad variety of items, so the company had to narrow down the types of packages that would be feasible to deliver by drone.
When Pogue asked about whether or not Amazon is worried that someone could intercept something like a TV just by shooting it down, Misener responded: “I suppose they could shoot at trucks, too.”
Amazon has said in the past that it’s testing different drone designs to learn the best way to deliver packages in different environments.
Misener expanded on this when talking to Pogue, saying that Amazon is looking at ways to make drone deliveries to areas that range from rural farmhouses to high-rise city skyscrapers.
When Pogue asked if the problem could be solved by designating a spot in a common area like a roof or courtyard, Misener answered: “That’s entirely possible.”
Amazon will be contributing a new type of vehicle to the mix when Prime Air eventually launches, but Misener says Amazon’s drones won’t be too noisy or disruptive.
Google has previously said that it wants to start delivering packages via drone by 2017, and in October Walmart applied to U.S. regulators for permission to test drones for delivery as well.
The Economics of Drone Delivery
After all, federal law prohibited commercial drones from flying over populated areas, and airplanes were already experiencing close calls with hobbyists’ drones.
Drone deliveries look like the future: unmanned quadcopters rapidly delivering packages to our doors, eliminating both wait times and the cost of human labor.
The current prototypes that companies have unveiled usually carry just one package, and after the drone makes its delivery, it has to fly all the way back to its homebase to recharge its batteries and pick up the next package.
In late November, Amazon released a slick video demo of Prime Air, a drone delivery system designed to “get packages to customers in 30 minutes or less.” It comes on the heels of a similar production from Google’s Project Wing, which showed a drone delivering dog food in Queensland, Australia.
If Amazon charged customers $1 per delivery, Keeney estimates, the company could earn a 50% return on its investment in drone infrastructure while offering same-day delivery that is significantly cheaper than current alternatives.
Her analysis ignores depreciation, and questions like: “How will drones avoid airplanes and deliver packages in Manhattan?” And there’s another core issue: $12.92 is the price UPS charges to consumers, but its actual marginal cost of delivering one more package along a route they are delivering to already is probably closer to $2. When push comes to shove, will drones be able to compete? The rest of her analysis incorporates the costs of electricity, backup battery packs, bandwidth, upgrades to facilities, and so on.
Keeney’s assumptions also stick to the middle ground: She presumes that Amazon will gain permission to fly drones out of sight, with each operator responsible for 10-12 drones, but not that Amazon will soon automate the entire process.
Matternet CEO Andreas Raptopoulos says it took their drones 15 minutes to fly 4.4 pounds of cargo 6.2 miles, and that the Maseru network successfully covered an area 1.5 times the size of Manhattan.
The flight demonstrates two aspects of the future of drones and air freight: that technology is not the limiting factor, and that drones’ most obvious appeal is not for personal deliveries.
The FAA has banned all commercial uses of drones in the U.S., and while the agency increasingly grants exemptions, the Flirtey flight is the only freight exemption that allowed a real delivery rather than testing in unpopulated areas.
The FAA currently requires companies with exemptions, like Amazon, to have an operator with a pilot’s license keep each drone within line of sight—a mandate that makes deliveries completely uneconomical.
“We cannot get medicine to them reliably, they cannot get critical supplies, and they cannot get their goods to market in order to create a sustainable income.” For the Matternet team, the most interesting question was not the cost per delivery.
But given that building and maintaining roads is a long and expensive process, drones could offer a quick and cheap way to (imperfectly) connect the billion people identified by Raptopoulos as cut off from most of the world.
“More specialized cases like delivering vaccines that need to be refrigerated to regional hospitals… Niche deliveries where speed is critical.” In these cases, for cargo that is small, light, valuable, and time-sensitive, cost is much less of a factor.
A drone delivery may save a life by getting delicate medicine to a rural patient, or keep an oil rig running by delivering a key piece of machinery.
Despite the current inability of drones to match the efficiency of a delivery truck’s milk run, the economics of delivering air freight by drone seem compelling.
In the meantime, drone deliveries will probably get their start in remote areas like Lesotho, or in use cases like flying vital machine parts to oil rigs and mines, or by collecting data on shipping to make it more efficient.
Here’s everything you need to know about Amazon’s drone delivery project, Prime Air
It has algorithms that anticipate your orders, ultra-efficient robots that pick items from warehouses, and even a service (Prime Now) that delivers certain items to your doorstep just hours after you order them.
A second letter to the the FAA showed Amazon’s frustration, with the company warning that the agency’s lack of communication would force the company to start testing abroad, which it did by building a new RD center in the United Kingdom that became operational in 2014.
The FAA established new drone regulations in February 2015, which stated that UAVs must be operated within eyesight of the pilot, and banned the flight of these drones over people who have no connection to the drone’s operation.
Amazon would receive somewhat of a break the following month, however, when the FAA finally approved testing with tight restrictions for a drone that the company had long since retired.
Although it’s not clear whether Amazon’s public shaming of U.S. government agencies had any effect, Prime Air seemed to gain some momentum throughout the rest of 2015 and into 2016.
The company spearheaded efforts in the summer of 2015 to set guidelines on where drones should fly, and later in the year debuted a new design for its drone with a longer range (15 miles) and better tech, which allows the drone to avoid ground and air-based obstructions automatically.
New rules in June allowed commercial outfits to operate drones without lengthy authorization processes, though they still had to adhere to tight restrictions, such as those pertaining to line of sight.
A few days later, however, the FAA decided to allow drones to operate without being in the pilot’s line of sight, a move that made Amazon’s delivery effort truly feasible for the first time.
While it’s not directly related to the company’s drone delivery effort, it signals a movement by Amazon to control every part of the delivery process, which may not involve USPS, UPS, or FedEx in the near future.
- On Friday, February 21, 2020
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