Tag Archive | logistics

Drone Startups part 16: Matternet in Bhutan

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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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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.

 

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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.

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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.

Drones For Good Award

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First and largest governmental award for civilian drone application is offered by the Government of United Arab Emirates.

The ‘UAE Drones For Good Award’ was launched under the direction of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAV Vice President and Ruler of Dubai in February 2014. The official webpage of the award, www.dronesforgood.ae became online on 10th of May.

The Award has two parts: an international prize offering $1 million USD and a local prize of 1 million AED (approximately $275,000 USD). The National competition is dedicated to rewarding the best, most practical ideas for using UAV technologies today to improve government services in the UAE. The International competition is dedicated to rewarding the most promising prototypes of future services that may benefit humanity at large. Submissions must be able to demonstrate a working prototype that could conceivably be developed into a working system within the next 1 to 3 years.

Dronologista already mentioned in one of previous posts, that UAE is planning to deliver personal documents using drones. The Drones For Good Award is just another logical step that Government of UAE is taking toward systematic application of UAS for the benefit of humanity. In a bit cheesy video below you can get the picture of how it ought to work.

More information about the award and the rules can be found here.

Dronologista will be following development of this competition, and wishes all applicants good luck.

 

Drone Startups part 4: Garuda Robotics

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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!

In every drone startups post up to now, dronologista presented US based companies. That reflects the fact that majority of the drone industry and drone interest comes from the US (more than 50% – all three 😉 of the visitors of this blog as well).  But UAVs are global phenomenon, and the development in this domain is happening around the world. To support that, in this post, dronologista presents a Singapore based startup, Garuda Robotics.

Garuda Robotics Logo

 

Targeting primarily enterprises that are using a fleet of drones for surveillance, inspection, agriculture or logistics, Garuda Robotics offers both hardware (autonomous drones) and software (basically drone fleet management system).

The software called Garuda Cloud consists of:

  • dashboard – status of drone fleet and history of missions
  • multi mode flight path generator – creates flight path by selecting starting point, finishing point and waypoints in between
  • cloud storage – for creating, editing and saving mission packages
  • flight simulator – enables drone’s eye view from along the actual flight path

Garuda Cloud also features point and click user interface and enables a seamless transition from autonomous to semi-autonomous mode of flight and back.

What makes this platform interesting is that it allows developers to create their own add-ons extending the basic functionality provided by the company. Also, there is a possibility to connect Garuda Cloud to existing hardware and software systems.

Garuda Robotics mission is to build internet of things, where drones are used as carriers for all physical matter. This all sounds very ambitious, and how it will be converted into reality, remains to be seen in months and years to come.

Dronologista will bring you an update on this story as soon as it happens.

Logo is courtesy of Garuda Robotics.

 

The city and the drones

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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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Skies of the cities in near future will be full of drones. They will be used for surveillance, mapping, infrastructure inspection, delivery, you name it. But how will UAV be incorporated in the existing fabric of urbanized areas? What kind of safety, legal, technical, liability, privacy etc. framework needs to be set up so that the potential of such vehicles can be fully utilized.

One of the first cities that will start experimenting with drone delivery system is Dubai. Officials of the United Arab Emirates want to introduce such system to deliver documents e.g. identification cards and driving licenses.

It will be interesting to see what will be the results of this experiment, because there are many questions to be answered:

  • What routes will drones take?
  • Will they fly over the existing street network, or above private property as well?
  • How will they be vertically and horizontally separated?
  • What kind of fail safe mechanism will be used?
  • How will the whole network be controlled etc.

Service provider that wants to use drones, will need to have some kind of “dronodrome” or station where UAV will land and take off, be serviced, recharged and loaded. Due to the limits of the operational range, several such stations need to exist throughout the city in order to cover required area. What kind of standards will be used to assess such station? Can it be privately owned?

City leaders need to start planning for the impact that drones will have on city services. New transport and delivery options may also open previously unknown opportunities in cities. But if those options are randomly embraced, without proper planning and preparation, they will create additional problems, and may harm a development of the city.

Because, no one will want to live in a city where drones are raining.

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.