Tag Archive | amazon.com

Does the Small UAV industry need its own coalition?

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Although only five months young, dronologista blog has grown and needs a new attire.

As of 1st of September, dronologista.com moves to a new hosting, new address and slightly changes the appearance . Content will remain the same, and dronologista will continue to provide information about non-military drones only.

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Original story by Hallie Siegel @Robohub

Last week USA Today reported that Amazon, 3D Robotics, Parrot and DJI had banded together to form a “Small UAV Coalition”, hiring DC-based lobbying firm Akin Gump to represent their interests before US regulators and ease the way for the commercial drone industry in that country. Akin Gump lobbyist Michael Drobac says that, since the USA Today report was first published, Airware and GoPro have joined the fold and others in the small UAV business will soon be following suit. But does the small UAV industry need its own lobbying effort, and how will the inclusion of retail giant Amazon impact its ability to represent the broader group?

In addition to contending with the FAA, the group must also gain traction with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which manages the communication frequencies that drones would use, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, which will be ruling on privacy issues. With multiple government bodies to lobby, Drobac believes it makes sense to work together in a concerted effort.

According to Drobac, there was already an appetite for a coalition among those in the small UAV business, whose needs differed somewhat from the larger UAV firms with aerospace and defence contracts. “The coalition members are all extremely consumer-focused,” he said, pointing out that the first priority of the group will be to lobby for clear safety and privacy guidelines, both of which are key concerns for consumers. The coalition has already filed several petitions for exemption with the FAA, and hopes to influence and educate policymakers and consumers about the commercial opportunities of small UAVs.

Small UAV Coalition

Patrick Egan from sUAS News thinks this consumer focus makes the coalition’s lobbying needs distinctly different from the needs of the UAV “old guard” of Department of Defence (DoD) vendors. “Previous lobbying efforts have been working to regulate 10-year-old aviation technology,” he says, pointing out that, by contrast, members of the Small UAV Coalition want to invest in new technology and new applications that haven’t even been discovered yet, and for that they will need extremely broad and inclusive regulatory definitions.

It therefor matters that they have their own representation. “If you’ve successfully lobbied to have the standards built around your product or business needs, you will have an edge,” says Egan, pointing out that while current regulations tend to focus on the fixed wing products common to DoD vendors, the regulations don’t even consider the multirotor devices that are common to the small UAV industry right now.

Image is another factor that may be drawing the coalition together. “A lot of small UAV companies have avoided aligning themselves with DoD vendors because of their military focus,” says Egan. “They just don’t need the controversy.”

Amazon retained council from Akin Gump when it filed its petition for exemption with the FAA this past July to begin tests with drones that weigh less than 55 pounds and fly below 400 feet. In its letter to the FAA, Amazon said that so far it has only been able to test its drones inside its Seattle R&D lab or in other countries, but would “prefer to keep the focus, jobs, and investment of this important research and development initiative in the United States by conducting private research and development operations outdoors near Seattle – where our next generation R&D lab and distinguished team of engineers, scientists and aeronautical professionals are located.”

Earlier this week, the Economic Times rumored that Amazon will begin testing drone delivery in India. If true, Amazon is pulling all punches. The threat of losing talent, R&D and investment to other countries is one of the key arguments of commercial drone advocates in the US. Andra Keay of Silicon Valley Robotics says, “Going to India sends a strong message to the FAA, and it makes so much sense. India is well-known for the high calibre of their roboticists, engineers and developers. And yet parts of the country still have very rudimentary infrastructure, which actually makes it easier to do disruptive innovation there. It’s harder to patch existing legacy building and transport technologies than it is to start afresh.”

Drobac says that allowing private testing facilities is key to keeping UAV innovation in the US: “Sure the FAA has some test sites, but it’s much more pragmatic to have testing near to where your headquarters are.”

For companies that are pushing innovation in this space, distance is not the only issue with testing facilities. New technologies such as sense-and-avoid will need to be peer-reviewed to meet (as-yet unspecified) safety regulations, and private companies like Amazon don’t want to go to public testing facilities. Says Egan: “Even though they might need an independent 3rd party to review their safety record, they still want to keep their proprietary data safe. We don’t know how safe that data is at a public site.”

The high cost of using the FAA testing sites (according to Egan, $5-10K per day) presents another obstacle. ”I’m not sure that the FAA took into account how prohibitive these costs could be to a small company that is just getting off the ground,” said Egan. “This is really a hold-over from the days when most UAV operators were Department of Defence vendors.”

According to the US Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan organization that tracks lobbying expenditures in the US, Amazon has significantly increased its lobbying expenditures in recent years (see chart). In the USA Today article, Chris Anderson from 3D Robotics was quoted as saying that Amazon’s interest “lets people realize how big it can be … They have a well-established presence in Washington and they were able to kick-start the mechanics of this coalition so we could quickly join and get moving.”

Source: Center for Responsive Politics. Note that 2014 expenditures represent only year-to-date until Aug 2014. Amazon has spent 40K on lobbying efforts for PrimeAir at the time of publication.

Source: Center for Responsive Politics. Note that 2014 expenditures represent only year-to-date until Aug 2014. Amazon has spent 40K on lobbying efforts for PrimeAir at the time of publication.

Egan agrees that the influence of a big player is critical to the future success of the coalition, saying that “Amazon has a lot of horsepower and the White House has now renewed its interest in the issue,” however he points out that in the longer term it could be difficult for companies with such different applications and financial resources to keep their interests aligned.

Drobac could not comment on the price of entry for joining the coalition, and would not speculate on how much money would have to be spent to smooth the way for the small UAV industry in the US. “It’s not about how much money will be required to change lawmakers’ minds, ” he said. “The question will come down to whether we can educate people about the tremendous benefits of UAVs to society, and we’re confident that we will because technology always wins.”

So far in 2014, Amazon has spent $40K on lobbying for Prime Air – a number that is likely to increase now that the coalition is official.

Whatever future challenges may exist between coalition members, Drobac insists that their focus will be on their common objective of opening up US airspace to small commercial UAVs: “If we can crack that door open, all boats will rise.”

“I just hope they don’t get frustrated at the pace the FAA operates at,” says Egan, who has been advocating for commercial UAVs for over ten years. “The movement towards the integration of US airspace has been slower than glacial.”

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Amazon Prime Air in India

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Although only five months young, dronologista blog has grown and needs a new attire.

As of 1st of September, dronologista.com moves to a new hosting, new address and slightly changes the appearance . Content will remain the same, and dronologista will continue to provide information about non-military drones only.

Enjoy!

After much of speculation about how, when and most of all, where will Amazon.com launch its drone delivery service, the answer seems to be here. Thanks to the rigidness of the FAA and negative public perception in US, drone delivery service will be launched and tested in India. According to The Economic Times, the US-based e-commerce giant will debut the drone delivery in Indian megalopolises of Mumbai and Bangalore, where it already has warehouses.

Despite of the effort  invested in gaining the permission to test fly delivery UAV, and despite the pressure put on the FAA by the coalition consisting of prominent UAV manufacturers (DJI Innovations, Parrot, 3D Robotics and Amazon.com), trials in the US is still prohibited, and will stay prohibited for quite some time. That is why Amazon.com decided to move its drone operations abroad, as announced in the shareholder letter earlier this year.

The company claims to have developed very advanced delivery UAV. Rapid development of the Amazon drones was facilitated by intense indoor testing, including test flights in their research lab in Seattle. Among features tested are agility, flight duration and redundancy. Most importantly, the company claims to have developed sense-and-avoid hardware and software that will allow its drones to automatically avoid collisions. In order to progress further with development, outdoor testing, in more realistic conditions is necessary.

India, on the other hand already had some experience with drone delivery. In May this year, Francesko’s Pizzeria from Mumbai, delivered pizza using a UAV. This however was met with a request for explanation by local police, since: “An unmanned vehicle cannot be used in Mumbai without seeking the requisite security clearance. This includes aerial vehicles. The outlet never approached us for any permission. We learnt about it through the media and have demanded an explanation”, as Additional Commissioner of Police, Madhukar Pandey told The Hindu.

However, it seems that the security clearance to use a UAV for a commercial purpose is easier to get in India than in US, despite the notorious red-tapism of Indian officials.

Dronologista will be following this interesting soap-opera like topic closely.

Additional information can be found at sUAS News and The Economic Times.

Videos courtesy of Amazon.com and Francesko’s Pizzeria.

 

VertiKUL – parcel delivery UAV

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Although only five months young, dronologista blog has grown and needs a new attire.

As of 1st of September, dronologista.com moves to a new hosting, new address and slightly changes the appearance . Content will remain the same, and dronologista will continue to provide information about non-military drones only.

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One of the main disadvantages of copter drones is their low energy efficiency: in order to create and maintain a sufficient lift, a lot of energy is needed, thus decreasing the endurance of the UAV. That is a serious obstacle for anyone trying to develop copter drones for parcel delivery. The solutions for UAV parcel delivery proposed so far include increasing energy efficiency of copters or van-drone multimodal transport system that combines the advantages of both vehicles.

Master’s students Cyriel Notteboom, Menno Hochstenbach and Maarten Verbandt from University of Lueven had different idea. When they were given the task for their Master thesis to build a drone, they were not told not to create something extraordinary. But it seems they did. After one year of intensive work, they came out with VertiKUL, a vertical take off and landing (VTOL) UAV that takes off like a helicopter, but flies like a fixed wing aircraft.

VertiKUL

VertiKUL

VertiKUL can carry up to 1kg (~2 lbs) to a distance of 30 km (~18,5 miles) with a single battery charge. It takes off vertically with the help of four propellers, and then, in midair the drone rotates its nose 90° forward, making the transition from take-off  to flying mode.  The stability during transition phase is achieved by independent propeller adjustment. When rotation is finished, the drone continues to fly like a conventional aircraft, using wings to increase energy efficiency during forward propulsion.

It won’t be soon before VertiKUL becomes parcel delivery workhorse however. It still has to solve some issues with landing in high winds, and negotiating changing weather conditions. And of course, there are minor legal challenges to be overcome before people start getting their books delivered to their back patio.

But as a proof of concept, this UAV might just be the thing Amazon is looking for, and will be the next generation of delivery drones they are testing.

Interesting articles about VertiKUL can be found on University of Lueven webpage, and at www.geek.com.

Image courtesy of University of Lueven. Video courtesy of Menno Hochstenbach.

 

Amazon asks FAA for permission to test delivery drones

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Although only five months young, dronologista blog has grown and needs a new attire.

As of 1st of September, dronologista.com moves to a new hosting, new address and slightly changes the appearance . Content will remain the same, and dronologista will continue to provide information about non-military drones only.

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In April this year, Amazon.com issued a shareholder letter that stated: “The Prime Air team is already flight testing our 5th and 6th generation aerial vehicles…″. Three months fast forward, first half of July, the company is on its 9th generation of drones, that can fly up to 50 mph (~80 km/h) and carry up to 5 pounds (~2kg) of payload, which is enough for 86% of the sold products.

Rapid development of the Amazon drones was facilitated by intense indoor testing, including test flights in their research lab in Seattle. Among features tested are agility, flight duration and redundancy. Most importantly, the company claims to have developed sense-and-avoid hardware and software that will allow its drones to automatically avoid collisions.

In order to progress further with development, outdoor testing, in more realistic conditions is necessary. That is why Amazon.com asked to be exempted from the lengthy and complex approval process, citing innovation as a driving factor, since the Congress gave the FAA power to grant innovators “expedited operational authorization”.

If the exemption is granted, that would allow the company to test Prime Air drones in its own backyard, “with additional safeguards that go far beyond those that of FAA”. One of the safeguards is the Geo-fencing, a technology that defines geographical boundaries within which drone flight can be confined and beyond which the drone gets automatically deactivated. That technology is already available and used on many commercial drones, DJI Phantom being one of the first, which was already posted at dronologista earlier this year. Exemption would also allow Amazon.com to test drones outside of six testing sites where FAA allows unmanned aerial vehicles to be used, in order to assess their safety, communication, air traffic control etc.

If exemption is not granted, however, it is quite obvious what will happen: the company will simply move its drone operations abroad. Canada is already very hospitable to commercial drone operators.

Full text of the Amazon Petition for Exemption can be found here.

Very detailed articles about the topic can be found at Forbes and Cnet.

Videos courtesy of Amazon and DJI Innovations

 

 

HorseFly – Unmanned Aerial Parcel Delivery System

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Although only five months young, dronologista blog has grown and needs a new attire.

As of 1st of September, dronologista.com moves to a new hosting, new address and slightly changes the appearance . Content will remain the same, and dronologista will continue to provide information about non-military drones only.

Enjoy!

Parcel delivery UAVs are a simple idea that requires a complex technology and great deal of vision. Matternet, Amazon.com and DHL (with their Paketkopter) are actively developing their drone delivery designs, and despite restrictive regulations, it is reasonable to expect that it will become reality sooner rather than later.

There is one common thing for all above mentioned systems: they are being developed to deliver package from a fixed location, the warehouse. The fact is that there are not a lot of warehouses in any given metropolitan area, and that they are almost exclusively located on the outskirts of the city. Despite of the developing endurance and range of multirotors, it is easy to see that even with the optimally positioned warehouses around the urban area, large parts of the city will remain outside of delivery drones operational range.

That seems to be a vision that has driven guys from AMP Holding to work together with the University of Cincinnati to develop UAV that will be coupled with a delivery truck.

AMP Workhorse delivery vehicle

AMP Workhorse delivery vehicle

A remarkably simple and brilliant idea of combined truck-UAV delivery method, should work something like this: The HorseFly will be positioned atop a delivery truck, awaiting a package from the driver. When loaded, the HorseFly will scan the barcode on the package, determine the path to the delivery address via GPS and fly away – completely self-guided – to the appropriate destination. Meanwhile, the delivery truck will continue on its rounds. After successful delivery, the HorseFly will zoom back to the truck for its next delivery run and, if needed, a roughly two-minute wireless recharge.

This system will require a more complex route optimization solution, one for the delivery truck and one for the UAV, and it is not clear yet how will that part of the delivery process be sorted out. But with the delivery vehicles conveniently scattered all over the urban area, no neighborhood will be out of range and reach.

HorseFly octocopter and AMP Workhorse

HorseFly octocopter and AMP Workhorse

Essential part of this system is the safety. Steve Burns, AMP CEO says that “An important part of the HorseFly project is that we make a vehicle that will not drop out of the sky”. In addition to the sophisticated autonomous controller system, the HorseFly will have multiple built-in hardware redundancies (rotors, onboard computers, battery packs). So if, for example, multiple rotors were to fail, the HorseFly and its payload still could be retrieved safely.

It seems that we got two emerging UAV delivery technologies: one from the fixed location, warehouse (Amazon.com and DHL) and the other from the moving vehicle. It will be interesting to see which one of them will prevail.

Dronologista bets that the vehicle-UAV system is the winning combination, because it offers great flexibility and contains a potential for further development (think of automation).

Interesting articles about the HorseFLy could be found at GizmagDroneLife and University of Cincinnati news page.

Nice picture gallery can be found in Fast Company Magazine.

Pictures courtesy of PluginCars.com and Fast Company Magazine.

Amazon drones are for real

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Although only five months young, dronologista blog has grown and needs a new attire.

As of 1st of September, dronologista.com moves to a new hosting, new address and slightly changes the appearance . Content will remain the same, and dronologista will continue to provide information about non-military drones only.

Enjoy!

That Amazon.com was dead serious when it introduced the idea of delivery octocopters, confirms the annual shareholder letter that was issued this week. Among other things, in the segment of the letter named Fast Delivery, it is stated that “The Prime Air team is already flight testing our 5th and 6th generation aerial vehicles, and we are in the design phase on generations 7 and 8”.

Although many dismissed the announcement made by Jeff Bazos at the end of last year, as a publicity stunt, it seems that we are getting closer to having a book (or pizza) delivered by drone. There are technical and legislative problems (check out this article by Techcrunch), but the technology is maturing, and civil aviation authorities are aware of it, despite occasional setbacks.

If you find yourself one day surprised by the buzzing sound of octocopters carrying parcels and delivering pizzas, get used to it soon, because it is, as Agent Smith would say, the sound of inevitability.