Delivery drones or unmanned aerial vehicle are pilotless aircraft carrying packages to a designated area. These flying bots generally have 4 to 8 propellers and rechargeable Li-Po batteries to generate thrust. The delivery drones are autonomous or remotely controlled through a ground controlled station. Drone operators can monitor multiple flying bots at once keeping track of every package delivered.
Traditionally, road transport has been the backbone of the logistics industry. But as urban settlements are getting more congested, it is already hard to reach remote areas with no road infrastructure, the drawbacks of traditional methods are becoming more apparent. The delivery industry is beginning to use drones to solve these issues.
The drones have been in the delivery business from a long time now, pizza delivery to delivering crucial time-bound medical supplies. Method of controlling delivery drone differs from other drone applications. To be feasible for delivery, a drone cannot be human controlled, due to the latency and cost of human labour which is one of the main benefits of drone delivery.
Delivery drones lift-off
The driving power behind delivery drones innovation is to cut down on the delivery time of packages which are to be delivered. Many companies are promising to deliver packages in 30 mins or less, but how and where the drones take-off is crucially important.
Few ways of drone delivery have been adopted, the first course is to deploy the drone from dispatch centres located around the city. The travelling speeds and built-in battery time could reduce the range of a drone to around 20-30 kilometres. This means multiple dispatch stations would be needed for a city-wide fleet.
The second method of delivery would be using the traditional delivery trucks that will operate as the dispatch centre for all the drone delivery operations. Drones will work with the road-bound vehicle’s navigation system to deliver parcels to more rural areas.
In-air and on route
Just like any aircraft, delivery drones have to anticipate with the laws of physics and aerodynamics. The design of delivery drones appears in all shapes and sizes. In a four-rotor drone, two blades spin clock-wise and other two counter clock-wise. Thus, the thrust generated by the rotation of the blades, along with stabilization technology, maintains the drone’s position in the air. However, for delivery purposes, the extra load carried by the drone needs to be considered. The bigger package requires a more robust and efficient performance drone to carry out the delivery operation.
For delivery drones to fly independently, beyond visible line-of-sight technology is needed. Guided by GPS systems, drones will be able to deliver packages to the customer’s location. But may encounter potential obstacles. Whether a bird, tree or even another drone, automatic sense and avoid systems is required to prevent in-air and ground accidents. Unmanned traffic management system (UTM) would control the skies shortly. Built-in sensors and cameras will be able to identify a nearby object’s proximity and speed, enabling the drone to take a responsive action to avoid the obstacle.
Drone delivery software
A drone delivery software lets drone operators deploy and manage a fleet of drones in real-time, access and control with cloud connectivity with 4G/LTE networks to gain real-time flight data and control from a remote location. The drone can automatically create paths optimized for no-fly zones, elevation and obstacle avoidance. Deployed tags on the desired location help precisely land and deliver the package safely.
- Reduced road congestion – Companies are looking into drone technology to do delivery tasks. Lesser delivery trucks or vans on the road will drastically help in reducing the road conjunction.
- Reduced environmental pollution – Delivery drones are known to be more convenient than delivery trucks and are also more efficient. Drones will drastically reduce carbon emission hence protecting the environment to some extent.
- Reduced delivery time – Delivery drones carry packages to the desired setpoint without getting affected by road traffic conjunction and on a planned optimized route. Customers will get their delivery in less than 30 mins.
- Reduced transportation cost – Drone shipping has several benefits for both businesses and customers. Delivery times are reduced from two to three days, down to a matter of hours, plus there is less chance of a package being damaged during transit and handling as drone flight is pretty smooth.
While many drones can be autonomous, challenges are numerous, like landing a drone in a known or unknown environment. Dropping packages to delivering them from the air is no small challenge to work on. Also, there are security risks, as drones are expensive machinery, people will want to steal or damage it. There is a factor of customer safety as well which currently all the big players in the drone delivery industry are facing. Challenges are plenty but with great software, development time, and enough training, all these problems can be fixed.
Drones are set to become the future of logistics with their reduced cost, higher convenience and delivery time less than 30 minutes. Online retailers like Amazon have already started to offer test deliveries in selected cities. Over the next few years, test runs and pilot programs will shape the future generation of drones. It is estimated that by 2020 we will see the beginning of complex drone delivery systems in action.
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