Tag Archive | cargo

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.

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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.

 

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Drone Startups part 16: Matternet in Bhutan

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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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Bhutan is the country viewed by most westerners as an idyllic Shangri-La, squeezed between China and India, on southern slopes of Himalayas. It is the only country in the world that introduced Gross National Happiness index instead of Gross National Product. Yet, by all standards it is not a wealthy country, with the GDP per capita of $7.000. That is perhaps best reflected in poor transport infrastructure, with only around 8.000 km of roads (of which less than 5.000 are paved), being on 140th place in world rankings.

On the other side of the world, in Silicon Valley, a startup is developing a solution for the very same problem Bhutan is facing: how to solve transportation problems when there are no roads or the roads are impassable. Matternet, has been working on this issue for quite some time now. However, due to the very problematic legislation for the UAV in the United States, Matternet was forced to perform its field tests in locations such as Haiti, and more recently, Bhutan.

Matternet in Bhutan

Matternet in Bhutan

The company was contacted by regional World Health Organization (WHO) official, Dr Pem Namgyal who acted upon the request of Bhutanese government, which was interested in using UAV for tackling country’s challenges: the country has 0.3 physicians per 1.000 people, one of the poorest ratios in the world; but the biggest problem was the accessibility, due to the poor road network where an average speed on MAJOR roads is ~10 mph.

Bhutan government with the assistance of WHO has already been dealing with the issue by developing the concept of tele-medicine. The concept is based the use of mobile phones and internet to allow remote medical check-ups. However, the material component of the concept was a major obstacle. There was virtually no way to bypass  road transport over difficult terrain and deliver samples of blood and urine, or to deliver medicaments to remote areas. Until now.

This project is the biggest test for Matternet yet. The startup intends to build a pick-up and delivery network of UAV and ground stations, in order to connect country’s main hospitals and rural communities. Drones that are being used are quadcopters with the payload capacity of 4lbs (~ 2kg), able to fly over the distance of around 10 miles (~ 16 km). The cost of a single vehicle is less than 4.000€. Fleet and ground stations are controlled by the software that would oversee the movement of vehicles.

Matternet in Bhutan

Matternet in Bhutan

The trials included flight from the capital Thimphu to the local hospital at Chamgang, and the feedback from the country seems positive. Matternet’s chief regulatory and strategy officer Paola Santana says that the conditions are less than ideal for drone operations, but that the system worked without any glitches. However, it was not tested in heavy rain of the monsoon season, and it is unclear how the system would work in such conditions.

If this pilot project is successful, it might lead to creating a huge market in the healthcare industry. However, it will become a reality in Bhutan sooner than in Silicon Valley paradoxically. But that is another story.

More about the topic can be found at The Independent and Bhutan News Network.

Images courtesy of Matternet.

 

The Flying Donkey Challenge on hold

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One of the most interesting competitions, The Flying Donkey Challenge that was scheduled to happen in November 2014. has been put on hold.

Tragic terrorist attacks on Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi and more recent one that happened in the Kenyan coastal town of Lamu, made it clear that organizing a public drone event in Kenya is incompatible with immediate security concerns.

The full statement of the organizers:

“The Flying Donkey Challenge idea started almost two years ago and for the past year we have been planning the first edition in Kenya.

We have had tremendous support from Kenyan partners including: IBM Research, University of Nairobi – FabLab, Lewa & NRT Conservancy, SGS, Sandstorm, and many friends of the FDC. The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) and military air traffic controllers at Nanukyi have been very helpful in working with us to find solutions to organise a life changing event. We would like to thank all of them for their trust and commitment to the project.

Due to delays in obtaining final approvals from the Kenyan authorities, we took the difficult decision in April to postpone the first edition of the FDC. Beginning with the horrific Westgate attack last September in Nairobi and following the tragic terrorist attacks near Lamu this month, it has become clear that organising a high visibility drone event in Kenya is incompatible with immediate security concerns. To be clear, it is not that cargo drone testing presents any threat whatsoever to Kenya, or that international participants would be at risk from travelling to Kenya, but only that, for the coming months, the overseers of civil and military aviation in Kenya have made it clear they are unlikely to be able to sign off on legal precedents for autonomous flight.

Since April, we have been pursuing air space approvals and locations in other African locations. While these talks have been productive, our unfortunate conclusion is that we will not be able to confirm a new date and location in 2015. Without a clear time-scale, closing on the budget is not possible. Taking into account the speed with which research and commercial drone ventures are proceeding, we feel it unfair to leave the teams that have applied for the Challenge in limbo and prefer to put the Flying Donkey Challenge in its current format on hold.

We strongly believe in the future of cargo drones and are looking into ways to reposition some of the great ideas and projects presented. The goal is unchanged: a new transport industry of donkey-sized cargo drones in Africa and beyond that can safely and affordably move 20-50 kilo payloads on low-altitude routes, creating jobs and growing economies.

We look forward to a booming flying donkey future.”

Let’s hope that the new date will be set soon, and that 2015. will be a better year for the Flying Donkey Challenge.

Flying Donkey Challenge

Flying Donkey Challenge

Drone Startups part 1: Matternet

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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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Just like the internet, but for matter. Set up by a group of students from Singularity University around the idea of leapfrogging expensive and inflexible road infrastructure in 2011, Matternet envisions system that can reach anyone, anywhere a system that creates opportunities and unlocks access.

 

Aiming to leapfrog limits of the existing surface transportation infrastructure, Matternet offers an innovative solution: a network that will use drones to deliver goods from and to communities that don’t have access to roads.

Taking into account present boundaries of drone technology, people behind Matternet designed a system that consists of three components:

  1. Dronescustom-built autonomous electric quadcopters with GPS and sensors, capable of carrying a few kilos up to 10 kilometers (which will improve, as the technology advances)
  2. Ground stations – solar powered charging stations where a drone can swap dead batteries for a set of charged ones
  3. Operating system – to organize fleet operations around the clock

 

The team has already conducted first autonomous point to point test flights in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, the UK, and at NASA’s Moffett Field in the US.

Although there are difficulties to be overcame (e.g. adverse weather conditions), those are not insoluble problems, and Matternet team is working on solutions.

 

Although initially targeting rural areas of developing countries without road access, such system can be also used in megacities, carrying goods over congested roads.

 

Video and pictures courtesy of Matternet.

Amazon drones are for real

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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.

The Flying Donkey Challenge

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Africa is the second largest continent on Earth in terms of land area and population. Recently it is experiencing staggering economic growth, that is higher than that of East Asia. However, in terms of infrastructure, African countries are left far behind. Road network is underdeveloped, and often the best way to get from point A to point B is the air transport. And that is where The Flying Donkey Challenge kicks in, aiming to drive innovation, technical/design excellence, safety, collaboration and the foundations to implement large-scale unmanned civilian air cargo delivery services in Africa and beyond.

The goal of the challenge is simple: The Flying Donkey should fly around Mount Kenya in under 24 hours, delivering and collecting 20 kilo payloads along the way, and first Flying Donkey to finish it, wins the prize. But what is the Flying Donkey in the first place? In the propositions of the challenge, it is defined as a ‘an unmanned cargo aircraft with a maximum takeoff weight of 60 kilograms (i.e. fixed wing, rotary or lighter than air aircraft)’.

Mount KEnya

Mount Kenya

Challenge itself is divided into four separate tracks to address the various issues and find the best solutions:

1. Technology (sense & avoid, GPS denied navigation, safety systems etc.)
2. Legal (regulation & certification, responsibility and liability etc.)

3. Logistics (ground handling, air operations, warehousing, operating costs)

4. Design (ground station, business plan competition, simulations etc.)

Starting in November 2014, number of events will be held in Africa in order to demonstrate progress in each track. Once all tracks have achieved their objectives, teams will be able to enter the Flying Donkey Challenge.

Organized by La Fondation Bundi and the Swiss National Centre of Competence for Research in Robotics (NCCR), supported by IBM research and Swiss World Cargo, The Flying Donkey Challenge is an exciting example of application of drones for the benefit of human kind.

Dronologista will keep an eager eye on this topic

More information: http://www.flyingdonkey.org/