Drones have been making the news ranging from how they have redefined the battleground in Ukraine, to becoming a viable and safer alternative to fireworks to what we will be talking about here, drone delivery.
Currently, we’re seeing efforts by Amazon to create its own platforms and Alphabet’s Wing effort, but each of these comes across as highly vertically integrated. Most of these efforts are operating under incredibly expensive regulations that also apply to commercial aircraft, which significantly increases the cost of these efforts but skirts the need for line-of-sight flying.
DroneUp has a different approach to this problem that is more aligned with how companies collaborate and operate today. DroneUp uses subcontractors to create the flying vehicles and critical parts of its solution that are outside its core operational capabilities.
Holding back drone delivery
There are three major issues holding back drone delivery: the first is the range and carrying capability of the drones, which tends to be 5 lbs now but will expand significantly in the future; the cost of deploying and ensuring the service, and it is hard to estimate liability with so few delivery drones flying; and air traffic control for flying vehicles at rooftop height.
This video from DroneUp is an example of its Walmart collaboration, which is in limited production. It showcases how the drones are designed, but the expectation is to shift to drone designs that are more similar to Alphabet’s Wing design, which combines vertical lift and hover, with large lifting wings that can substantially increase the drone’s range.
DroneUp has also created a free-to-use solution for drone air traffic control, which would be available to others to address the problem of keeping large numbers of drones flying near both people and each other. While DroneUp’s drones are artificial intelligence (AI)-driven and autonomous, the flying rules they must comply with require active line-of-sight oversight, which requires both a drone pilot and a drone observer. This is fine for trials but would create significant cost and staffing disadvantages at scale.
While DroneUp’s weight limitation is only 5 lbs, in a few short months future drones are expected to blow past this limit to 10 lbs, and Amazon and others have been testing large-scale delivery drones that could carry much more. Until air traffic control and range issues are addressed, these big machines are more concept than solution, but they do show what may eventually be possible.
AI to the drone rescue
Artificial intelligence, which is being used broadly for the class, coupled with lighter, high-capacity batteries, will be the competitive advantage for companies, like Amazon, Wing, and DroneUp. The drones’ ability to pick up and deliver packages with less and less oversight will depend on the advancement of regulations that allow this and the advancement of platforms, like NVIDIA’s Jetson. And by the way, the implementation of these AI drone solutions isn’t just for carrying your latest Amazon or Walmart purchases. They could also replace Uber and Lyft to deliver people. The Jetson One, now in flight testing, showcases that we are advancing human-carrying drones at the same speed as drones carrying packages.
Whether we are talking packages or people, the delivery market is embracing and testing drones as an alternative to last-mile delivery by trucks at unpredicted levels.
More companies like DroneUp that pull together solutions from others are likely to emerge to compete with vertically integrated offerings, like the Amazon effort, as the market explores more creative ways to get packages and people to their destinations quickly.
Behind the scenes, NVIDIA is providing core AI and control technology to help make this happen. AI, both in drones and in future drone air traffic control systems, will redefine how packages get to us and how we get around.
The future is coming, and it is flying in incredibly quickly.
See more: The Artificial Intelligence (AI) Market