If you read the news on a regular basis, you’ve likely seen a number of articles over the past few years about how drones will be delivering our packages any day now.
Amazon has generated a large portion of these news by announcing their Amazon Prime Air service, which promises to “safely get packages to customers in 30 minutes or less using small unmanned aerial vehicles”. However, you may note that Amazon’s webpage doesn’t give a lot of information about when these deliveries-by-drone may actually be possible.
Here are some of the main hurdles to delivery-by-drone that UAV manufacturers and retailers would have to overcome to make this service a reality:
- Drones would need live environment mapping capabilities to avoid moving objects (including other delivery drones) or recently installed objects. The assumption will drone deliveries is that drones would automatically know where to go, rather than having a manual operator, which would be too time-consuming. So, drones would need a way to avoid running into things, requiring real-time simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM). This technology is currently being rolled out for some automobiles, but because flight adds further complexity to the system, we are likely several years from developing this technology.
- Drones need to be able to deliver a package to a precise location without endangering bystanders. Along the same lines as the previous requirement, but adding the extra provision that a drone should never endanger a human in the course of its deliveries.
- Drones would need long flight times and payload carrying capabilities. Drone technology has come a very long way in the past few years, but small drones don’t currently have the payload carrying capacity to deliver anything but the lightest of packages across long distances.
- Drones need to be theft and tamper resistant. Delivery drones wouldn’t be very useful if people could easily hack them or bring them down in order to take their valuable cargo.
- The FAA would have to approve unmanned operation and remove the current line-of-sight requirements to allow drones to automatically deliver packages. This is perhaps the biggest non-technological hurdle to drone deliveries.
- Drones needs to work reliably in most weather conditions. The real world has a lot of unpredictable factors that could get in the way of drone deliveries, including rain, snow, hail, and other natural phenomena. Drones would need to find a way to work through these conditions while still maintaining safety and accuracy.
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