Tag Archive | delivery

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.”

Human Side(s) of UAVs – Mr. Patrick Meier exclusive for dronologista

Dear friends,

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!

It is with genuine pleasure to share exclusive short interview with a pioneer in „digital humanitarian efforts“ (as praised by Mr. Clinton). For those not familiar with this super-visionary person, he is the one that launched UAViators and then iRevolutionMr. Patrick Meier himself. Whoever is interested at least a bit in humanitarian work and UAVs at the same time, should definitely pay a visit to those hubs of UAVs news and updates.

Mr. Patrick Meier

Mr. Patrick Meier

DM: How did you come up with idea of organizing online community for collecting samples of humanitarian use of UAV’s?

Mr. Meier: I was in the Philippines working with UN/OCHA shortly after Typhoon Haiyan and was struck by the number of different UAV projects that we’re going in. This was truly unprecedented. I was also concerned that none of the teams running these UAV projects had any idea about each other. This not only presents issue vis-a-vis operational safety and inefficient use of resources. I also noticed that most UAV projects did not share their imagery with local communities, nor did they engage local communities in any meaningful way. So I knew it was time to launch this community of practice. I personally have been flying UAVs for about 2 years now, and I started precisely because I wanted to explore how they might be used in humanitarian settings. But I didn’t expect to launch the Humanitarian UAV Network as soon as I did. It really was my experience in the Philippines that accelerated my decision to set up UAViators.

DM: What is the exact purpose of UAViators.org?

Mr. Meier: To create a global volunteer network of responsible civilian and hobbyist UAV pilots in order to facilitate information sharing, coordination and operational safety in support of humanitarian efforts. The purpose of this network is to be pro-active in educating new civilians pilots rather than waiting for mistakes to be made. The mission is thus two-fold, facilitating safe operations and establishing standards for the use of UAVs in broad humanitarian contexts.

DM: Do you find room for future extensive exploitations of UAVs, in the respect of humanitarian actions?

Mr. Meier: Yes, I believe it is inevitable that UAVs will become mainstream technologies in the humanitarian space; not only for multi-sensor data collection but also for the transport of small payloads and for providing 3G/4G & wifi services in areas where cell phone towers etc have been destroyed.

DM: Do you have any contact with international organizations, in regards with possible UAVs engagement?

Mr. Meier: Yes, several, including the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Action (UN OCHA) and the American Red Cross, for example.

DM: Do you find public skeptical when it comes to use UAVs in humanitarian actions?

Mr. Meier: Less and less so. They are more skeptical about law enforcement uses, though, primarily because of understandable worries around data privacy. But Amazon’s foray into the drone space is certainly helping us in the humanitarian space by demonstrating the very real possibilities of UAVs.

DM: Are you personally satisfied with the developments of UAViators.org?

Mr. Meier: Yes, and very surprised that the Network has evolved so quickly with so many different key initiatives like the Crisis Map and Travel/Laws Wiki, for example.

DM: What is the future development plan in regards with UAViators.org? (If not confidential, of course)

Mr. Meier: We have several plans lined up including the launching of a training and certification course on UAVs for humanitarian organizations.

DM: Have you been engaged previously in any sort of humanitarian actions?

Mr. Meier:Yes, I’ve been involved in the humanitarian space in one way or another for about 12 years now.

DM: Beside UAViators.org, is there anything else you could share with us regarding the human side(s) of UAV?

Mr. Meier: Perhaps some of these posts may be of interest: iRevolution.

Hereby I would like to thank Mr. Patrick Meier on his time and willingness to share some more information with me. I am perfectly aware of amount of daily tasks he is facing. However we strongly support the enthusiasm and visionary that Mr Meier promotes in regard of humanitarian deployment of UAVs in the future. Furthermore I am going to update you guys on any news coming from Mr. Meier „kitchen“.
Picture and video property of iRevolution.net

Drone Startups part 16: Matternet in Bhutan

Dear friends,

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!

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.

 

VertiKUL – parcel delivery UAV

Dear friends,

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!

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.

 

Top 5 by dronologista @Robohub

Dear friends,

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!

On 30th of May, a comment appeared on the About page of this blog. Hallie Siegel, the Managing Editor from Robohub, an excellent online communication platform for, well, robotics mostly, proposed to me to cross-post articles. After a brief Skype interview, I agreed (of course!) to share my blog posts, and to join an impressive group of contributors that included UAV heavyweights such as Chris Anderson and prof. dr. Raffaello D’Andrea.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=waUY6hlG-3k

Two months fast forward, and there are ten articles by dronologista at Robohub. Some of them are more some less successful, but all of them were interesting enough to grab attention of Robohub visitors. Here are the top 5 that were generating quite a lot of traffic:

  1. Drone Startups: Fotokite – This article is a part of ongoing series of Drone Startups posts. It is about a startup that designed what is basically a powered kite, not a quite a drone, ideally suited to dodge FAA scrutiny. The article was submitted to Slashdot harnessing traffic from it, and was even reposted on DIYDrones. Great success!
  2. Quadrotor allegedly seen spying on French teams closed practice at World Cup – Published during the World Cup craze, it attracted a lot of people. French coach Didier Deschamps was calling for investigation after a quadcopter was spotted spying over his team’s closed training session. It was not revealed whose drone it was, but since we know now that it was Germany that beat the French team in quarterfinals, it seems that Germans used high-tech solution to get to semifinals. No drones spied on Brazil team though, so I am out of theories why they lost 7-1.
  3. Rescue drone that finds survivors using their cellphones’ WiFi signals – Post about a UAV that was designed by team of students from EFPL. It includes the interview with Jonathan Cheseaux, the man behind the project.
  4. The thriving drone community of South Africa – While most of the stories found around the internet is focused on drones in US, this post covered a country that is not often featured online in connection to drones. Yet, a thriving community exists, and is very productive and creative.
  5. HorseFly unmanned aerial parcel delivery system – This post described something that could be Amazon’s wet dream. A combined transport system that uses both a van and a UAV to deliver the parcel, utilizing both vehicles advantages.

Those were 5 of mine most popular articles at Robohub after two months of collaboration, which I hope, will continue to flourish. I wonder if I will be able to completely redefine this list in six months time. Just a personal challenge for dronologista 🙂

What is your favorite blog post by dronologista?

Amazon asks FAA for permission to test delivery drones

Dear friends,

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!

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

 

 

5 attempts of drone food delivery

Dear friends,

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!

Food delivery business can be very profitable, but not necessarily fun. Customer orders, meal gets prepared, courier guy fetches it, delivers it to your doorstep and walks away, tens of times a day (just think of Fry and Futurama).

Futurama style food delivery

Futurama style food delivery

It became so commonplace and glamorous almost as a public transport ride.  But, entrepreneurs keep on trying to reinvent the whole thing, and to bring something interesting in the mix. That is where drones kick in. Several attempts have been made so far, to deliver food using a UAV as a delivery platform. Some of them have been fake, some genuine, but all of them were cool enough to hit the headlines, and proved to be excellent marketing tool.

So, let’s see what airborne food delivery attempts we have so far:

1. Tacocopter

One of the first to play with the notion of aerial food delivery, was Tacocopter. Tacocopter idea is built around some of the most prominent touchstones of modern America: fast food, smartphone apps, robots and laziness. You use a smartphone app to order a taco, which is then delivered to you by a drone. There is ofcourse, a small issue of FAA prohibiting commercial use of UAV. Also, usual problems of drone delivery such as navigation, sense&avoid etc. are persistent, so no taco raining from the sky any time soon in US of A. Maybe in Mexico though…

2. Burrito Bomber

Early adopter of the Tacocopter idea was Darwin Aerospace with their Burrito Bomber project. They used a fixed wing UAV, a very unorthodox choice, and instead of handing the food to you it was parachuting it. The whole process worked something like this:

  1. You connect to the Burrito Bomber web-app and order a burrito. Your smartphone sends your current location to the server, which generates a waypoint file compatible with the drone’s autopilot.
  2. Waypoint file is then uploaded to the drone and burrito is loaded to custom made Burrito Delivery Tube
  3. The drone flies to your location and releases the Burrito Delivery Tube. The burrito parachutes down to you and the drone flies itself home

As you can guess, the concept of food bombing didn’t appeal to FAA, so no flying  carne asada either.

3. Sushi Flying Waiter

It is not actually called Sushi Flying Waiter but iTray. London restaurant Yo!Sushi introduced the iTray during summer 2013. In essence, a Parrot AR Drone 2.0 with an attached food tray was piloted by staff and delivering rice sushi burgers to customers sitting in front of the venue. Doesn’t look very stable though, and hopefully there will be no wasabi in customers laps. But with a lot of dedication, little bit of know-how and blade protection this could become a viable concept. Just like sushi conveyor belt did.

4. Pizza drone delivery

Where to start with this one? First it was UK based Domino’s  pizzeria with the DomiCopter, delivering two pepperoni pizzas in 2013. Then there was Francesco’s pizzeria in Mumbai doing the same thing (ok, not the same, it was not pepperoni pizza). This is rumored to be a fake, as the pizza crate was empty. And then there was this week’s entry, a Russian active sales guy, ordering drone pizza delivery in northern Russian city of Syktyvkar. This video will be featured here as it has coolest music by far.

5. Beer Chopper

Beer is food, alright. If you ever had a two pints of wheat ale, you know how filling that can be. If you haven’t, well, you should. Anyway, beer chopper was a brainchild of Lakemaid Brewery in Minnesota, as it wanted to provide ice fishermen with a fresh cold beer, while they are on the lake. Cool idea, but it will have to wait for a while, until FAA decides what to do with commercial drones. On the other end of the world, in South Africa, OppiKoppi festival goers had a chance to see OppiKoppi Beer Drone Tech parachuting the beer as ordered. No need to stand in the long queue to have your beer thirst quenched, just use your smartphone and watch your head.

 

Coke delivery in Singapore wasn’t included intentionally. Coke  is not food, though it does make you fat.

Bon Appétit