What is drone delivery?

Drone delivery systems utilize Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to autonomously transport goods such as medical supplies, equipment, parcels, and more.

Drone technology adoption is snowballing amongst consumers and enterprises. Major companies, including Amazon (Prime Air program), have taken initiatives to solve the "last mile" delivery problem. The last mile problem is an economic and resource inefficiency due to individualized deliveries required, making it the most expensive and time-consuming part of the logistics industry. 

How do drone delivery systems work?

A multirotor aircraft uses motors and propellers to generate the lift. The advantage of multi-copters is taking off and landing vertically with precision in tight areas.

Vertical Take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft looks like a fixed-wing airplane but can take off and land vertically without a runway. The advantage of VTOLs is the efficiency achieved through a forward flight with the lift sustained by the wing.

Components of a delivery drone

Power system 

Lithium batteries generally power these aircraft. However, hybrid-electric drones are starting to emerge in the market; these hybrid aircraft are powered by a small combustion engine, converting gas into electricity in flight. Hybrid drones can provide long endurance flights of up to 5 hours, providing extended flight range. 

Control system 

Three core components of a UAV system are GPS, Compass, and Intertial Measurement Unit (IMU). The GPS provides the aircrafts position on earth, the compass provides the orientation of travel, and the IMU is a gyroscope that stabilizes the aircraft's rotational attributes. These onboard systems enable drones to navigate autonomously with predefined waypoints.

A pilot on the ground controls a drone by a ground control station AKA Remote controller (RC). Current RCs can transmit up to a 15km range in optimal conditions and with a clear line of sight. Furthermore, new flight control technologies with LTE and 5G connectivity can transmit telemetry and flight control data from cell towers, extending the flight range even further, with the limiting factor being fuel. 

Safety

Advanced RPAs on the market today often come with redundancies in onboard power and navigation systems. Dual independent batteries allows the aircraft to land safely in the event of a battery failure. Redundant GPS/IMU/Compass systems constantly check the state of each other for unity, providing precision flight controls and resistance to interference.

Other safety features can include: beacons, Automated Return-to-home (RTH), ADS-B receivers which enhance situational awareness of manned-aircraft traffic, and parachute recovery systems deploy in catastrophic failures bringing the aircraft softly to the ground.

Payload system 

Drones can deliver packages in various ways.

Parachute drops: the package is attached to a parachute system. When the UAV reaches the drop zone, it will release the parcel, then deploy a parachute allowing the box to glide softly to the ground for awaiting crew members.

Cargo box: the drone carrying the package will land in a designated area where the crew will unload the parcel before returning home. These cargo boxes can be temperature controlled for sensitive deliveries such as blood supplies.

 Corded drop: the drone will hover above the drop zone and release a cord controlled by a winch attached to the package, lowering the parcel slowly to the ground. 

Technology is outpacing regulations and supporting infrastructure

With the skies being more crowded than ever before, air traffic conflicts between drones and human-crewed aircraft present a significant safety risk to aviation. As a result, as of 2022, most aviation authorities require certification and within-line-of-sight operations for drone operators.

Major governing bodies such as Transport Canada and the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) recognize this disruptive technology's social and economic benefits. As a result, transport Canada's drone strategy to 2025 is to actively collaborate with industry partners to unlock the economic potential of the drone industry. In the near future, we should expect more explicit guidelines for Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations and a drone traffic management system to integrate RPAs into our busy airspace. These initiatives are instrumental to the development of drone delivery technologies. 

Where is drone delivery happening today

The Healthcare industry can benefit from fast and efficient transportation of vaccines, medicines, and medical supplies. For example, medical drone deliveries have saved lives by delivering emergency blood supplies. In other cases, drones have delivered life-saving defibrillators to a cardiac arrest patient significantly faster than the emergency crew's ability to get on site.

Compared to ground transportation, drones can efficiently access remote or inaccessible communities. For example, the University of British Columbia (UBC) has a "Remote communities Drone Transport Initiative" program that enables cargo transportation into remote Northern communities. 

Drone delivery solutions today

Introducing the Draganfly Heavy Lift drone. Designed and manufactured in North America, this UAV can carry payloads up to 67lb (30kg) with up to 55 minutes of flight time. With a flight range of up to 30km, the Draganfly Heavy Lift system is ideal for drone delivery applications. 

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