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Exclusive: The fantastic business and journey of drones in our lives

What role will drones play in our daily and business lives? Find out with this exclusive article

Presently, about 85% of all parcels delivered in e-commerce weigh about 2kgs or less Some real estate companies have already started incorporating drone landing pads in their new projects Drones will communicate with each other, primarily to ensure that they do not stray into each other’s path and avoid a collision

With the number of delivery drones in the global eCommerce industry alone expected to increase to 2.2 million units by 2025, there will be a surge in the demand for drone servicing, repair, and maintenance.

"Faster deliveries, reduced road traffic, access to remote areas, accurate deliveries, and greater convenience make drones an attractive proposition for last-mile delivery,” said Joe Praveen Vijayakumar, Mobility Consulting Vice President at Frost & Sullivan, in reference to drone research the company conducted.

"Acknowledging the vast application scope of the technology, drone delivery companies are collaborating with drone software platform companies to develop advanced artificial intelligence and autonomous flight capabilities. There is also considerable potential to partner with companies developing next-generation rotors and propellers that can muzzle sound."

AMeinfo interviewed Joe Praveen Vijayakumar, also Senior Industry Analyst, Mobility Practice, at Frost & Sullivan.

We asked about this trend, and his answers below paint a robust picture of the technology that looks sure to have a safe landing in our future.

AME: What is the volume of drone orders by 2025 for e-commerce delivery alone?

ANS: Delivery drones will predominantly be used to deliver small parcels which will weigh about 2Kgs or less. Presently, about 85% of all parcels delivered in e-commerce weigh about 2kgs or less. So the potential market is huge for drone deliveries in e-commerce. We estimate that globally, about 2.2 million delivery drones will be required by 2025, to support parcel deliveries in the e-commerce industry alone.

AME: What size/type/price drones are best suited for the ecommerce industry?

ANS: Companies are trying out different types of drones to figure out which drones will be best suited. The drones available in the market at the moment can be classified into two broad categories, namely fixed wing and multirotor drones. Both have their pros and cons. Fixed wing drones do not possess VTOL (vertical take-off) capabilities as multirotor drones. Fixed wing drones are more durable and are more fuel efficient. On the other hand, the hovering capability of multirotor drones allows them to make precise deliveries. Recently we have witnessed the emergence of Transitional drones, which are essential fixed drones with rotors. They combine the advantages of VTOL, along with the aerodynamic advantages of a fixed winged drone design. We believe transitional drones will play a key role in the drone delivery landscape of the future.

AME: Where will these land for people living in towers (60th floor for example)

ANS: Yes, you will need to have drone landing pads in high rises. Some real estate companies have already started incorporating drone landing pads in their new projects. Trumark Urban, a real estate developer has incorporated a Drone Landing Pad in its project titled TEN 50 in downtown Los Angeles. This is the first residential high rise to have a drone landing pad in the US. Residents of the 25 storey tower can place orders on their smartphone and have their packages delivered to the delivery pad in the building.

AME: What are some of the results of Drone delivery trials in terms of speed, safety, accuracy, AI, others..?

ANS: Drone delivery trials are happening across several countries across the globe. One of the prominent ones is the one happening in Iceland. Flytrex has partnered with Iceland based online retailer to drone deliver goods to customers living along one route in the city Reykjavik. Deliveries that earlier used to take 25 minutes to reach the customer by road will be delivered in under 5 minutes using drones. Apart from savings on time and easing traffic congestion, the drone program is expected to cut delivery cost by 60%. Now, AHA and Flytrex are working to expand the service to 13 additional routes in the city.

AME: What are the industry sectors, besides eCommerce, best suited for drones?

ANS: Our research focused specifically on Drones for deliveries. Apart from drone deliveries in e-commerce, you will see their adoption in industries such as Military (Delivery of supplies to battlefields), Hospitals, Oil& Gas, Construction, Manufacturing, Shipping, Postal/Courier and Food Delivery. Delivery drones will also be used in humanitarian scenarios to deliver aids to people stuck in disaster-struck areas.

AME: What is the role of AI with drones in e-commerce but also in construction, surveys, mining, or any main sector they are employed in?

ANS:

– An AI-powered drone will work autonomously with minimal human intervention, thereby reducing mishaps caused due to human error

– AI will enable drones to understand their mistakes when they commit one and learn from them, resulting in progressively improved service over a period of time.

– Drone companies have access to huge volumes of data generated by drones while on their missions. Driven by AI; this data can be used by drones to make informed decisions to enhance drone services in the future.

AME: Will AI allow drones to talk to each other, and what would they say? 

ANS: Yes, the drones will communicate with each other, primarily to ensure that they do not stray into each other’s path and avoid a collision. Data pertaining to evolving weather conditions on different routes can also be shared real-time among drones in flight.

AME: Does autonomous for drones mean that no human will be engaged remotely or directly?

ANS: Even with autonomous drones, we predict that operations will commence with a human command and control centre to monitor the drones in flight.

AME: Is Drone noise part of regulatory compliance? 

ANS: Yes, it is. A swarm of delivery drones flying overhead populated areas is likely to make considerable noise which can disturb the inhabitants. Hence companies are working to develop propulsion systems which will reduce the noise emitted from drones.

AME: How is space around cities partitioned to allow for Drone-Specific areas?

ANS: Governments, regulatory authorities and drone companies are working towards developing an effective geofencing mechanism that will allow drones to be operated on a large scale in urban areas in the future

AME: How catastrophic are instances when these spaces are violated, or when interference takes place with amateurs not bound by rules Drone operators abide by?

ANS: Yes, it can be catastrophic. That’s why there are companies who specialize in identifying intrusive drones. Dedrone, a US-based company has developed a system that can detect drone activity in given airspace and employ Artificial Intelligence to determine if the incoming drone is hostile or not.

DroneShield has developed a multi-sensor system that can detect intrusive drones. A combination of radar, acoustic, and radio frequency sensors are used.  Camera and thermal sensors allow for visual confirmation upon which an alert is sent in the form of SMS and e-mail to the buildings security system.

 

AME: What if drones start falling on people's heads due to bad maintenance, strong wind, malfunctions, empty batteries, etc.. What is the industry doing as a contingency?

ANS: Yes, the participants in the industry are working towards developing contingency measures for these safety-related scenarios. For Eg.  ParaZero, a start-up, has developed a safety solution called ‘SafeAir’. This system comprises an automatic pyrotechnic parachute system, which will launch a parachute within a fraction of second on sensing a malfunction.

Amazon has filed a patent application for an airbag system that will be inflated when the package is about to be dropped off for delivery. The airbag will cushion the impact when the package falls to the ground.

AME: What is the fly-time range of most commercial drones?

ANS: Multicopter, electric drones presently have an approximate range between 8 km and 45 km and can be used for short-range deliveries. Winged hybrid propulsion models of drones achieve a range more than 100 km and could be used for intercity deliveries

AME:  What ground infrastructure is needed (battery refuelling for example) to allow for seamless operation of commercial drones? 

ANS: Ground infrastructure will be required to support charging which can increase the range of missions that a delivery drone can undertake. Several companies are developing innovative charging solutions. US-based Asylon has developed the ‘DroneHome’, which is a weatherproof rugged box. It is a charging box which houses 12 batteries. When a drone with a depleted battery lands on the box, a robotic arm automatically removes the depleted battery and loads a new battery on to the drone. The drone can continue with its mission, while the depleted battery is placed inside the DroneHome to charge.  Skysense, a Germany based company has developed a portable charging pad with conductive tiles on the surface on which drones can land and automatically charge their batteries. These devices can be installed along the routes with high drone traffic and can be used to increase the range of the drones.