UAVs As a Delivery Medium
“A Special Delivery“
Humans have always been fascinated by flight, even long before technology metamorphosed. Flying through the air like a bird, with little more than our muscles and our wits, is a dream so vividly etched into our being that the ancient Greeks immortalized it via myths. Human beings have tried and failed throughout history to defy the gravity that ceaselessly pulls us to Earth.
Since then UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, commonly known as “drones”) have given us new horizons to explore. One such scope is making use of drones as a delivery platform or medium. UAVs are already used routinely for mapping, monitoring, following rapid onset emergencies, in medical fields, and as a military defence mechanism for surveillance, etc. If we explore the arena of utilizing UAVs for carrying light-weight, time-critical items especially to address humanitarian challenges, then cargo UAVs could prove to be beneficial for:
1) Delivering critical medical aids within the first 72 hours since the onset of a crisis; wherein rupture of infrastructure and onset of natural calamities make the roads incommutable.
2) Transporting microbiological samples from field clinics to testing labs as transportation of samples via. motor vehicles can be slow.
3) Rapidly delivering health commodities for which there is unpredictable demand, such as anti-venom.
4) In the health care sector, UAVs can transport medicines and vaccines, and retrieve medical samples.
UAVs won’t replace conventional humanitarian vehicles like 4X4 and planes but they could bolster responses, adding on extra, complementary tools to benefit mankind. They can be pre-positioned, don’t require extensive infrastructure to operate and can circumvent poor infrastructure.
Considering Delivery as an Optimizing Problem:
As we know the shortest distance between point A and B is a straight line connecting both the points. Now, if we compare this shortest path to a road which is probably zig-zag, the winding path is inherently inefficient, coupled with the problem of traffic and the rising cost of petrol along with delivery time and high cost.
In case of emergency, delivery of medical supplies such as blood, vaccines, antidotes etc. would end up being a costly decision along with the risk of losing a life.
The challenge of a smart system of delivery is also one of the biggest reasons online shopping does not have the revolutionary impact it deserves. Most online shopping orders take days and weeks to arrive, this is a big turn off to most people who would want to shop online.
What features should we expect from such a delivery system?
Fast: It should be competent enough to deliver in a few minutes or hours, and not extend it today’s or weeks.
Low Cost: It should be affordable to the average population.
Immune to Traffic: since it is an aerial device, it’s far from getting affected by traffic.
Convenient: One needn’t part with the comfort of home or workplace to operate it.
High Scalability: With a hike in the frequency of deliveries, the efficiency of a system shouldn’t decrease.
Zero/ Negligible Ecological Footprints: Climate change is real and nature feels our impact, good or bad!
So straight away this proposes a new, fast, very low cost, traffic immune, scalable, sustainable and very convenient system for the delivery of payloads, making use of a medium that takes advantage of the displacement between A and B.
The idea of using drones for delivery is not a new idea and companies such as Google, Amazon, Matternet etc. are already making great leaps in this sector. It is no surprise the tremendous opportunities drone delivery system presents, hence the influx of giant companies of the likes of Google and Amazon is becoming a major contributor in this aspect.
India’s first drone Policy
You can legally fly drones in India from December 1, 2018. But under some terms and conditions:
The Indian government is seemingly moving with the times when it comes to drone technology. Every RPA (remotely pilot aircraft) will require a Unique Identification Number, although it will also need an Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP) from the DGCA, besides following through on other operational requirements set by the regulator (DGCA).
The policy has listed out five different categories of drones:
1) Nano: This robotic process automation (RPA) is less than or equal to 250 grams
2) Micro: 250 grams to 2 kg
3) Small: 2-5 kg
4) Medium: 25 to 150 kg
5) Large: Heavier than 150 kg
Drones provide an elegant means for direct parcel delivery to customers and as they are airborne, they have the capability of making use the optimal paths for delivery. They are typically light-weight, are energy efficient and cost-efficient, having a low maintenance cost throughout. Considering all the above-stated facts, there is no contradiction to the proposition that drones are the new big thing in the developing sector of technology. Also, five to ten years down the lane, drones adorning the sky and replacing our conventional road transport system won’t be a rare sight to witness.