Dec 8, 2020

Building a Delivery Drone

Building a Delivery Drone

COVID-19 has changed so much around the globe, and drone delivery is not immune. There has been a massive increase in interest for everything related to product delivery via drone. Sending pizzas, books, documents, coronavirus tests and much more by drone is an obvious way to limit human interaction during a pandemic. But the signs suggest that it's not going to stop even when things get back to normal. In this blog we'll talk about what you might want to think about if you want to start delivering products by drone.

Drone delivery’s major players.

Several companies are already operating and testing delivery drones. At present, the main players include Wing, Zipline and Manna.

Google's Wing is currently operating primarily in Christiansburg, Virginia and delivers everything from food and medicine to library books. Zipline have been in the press regularly over the past few years for delivering medicine to rural areas of Rwanda. Zipline has much further reach than their competitors because they used a fixed wing approach rather than the customary quadcopter or an octocopter like Wing.

I also included newcomer Manna in this conversation because I love the name (one for the biblical scholars) and also because they're from Ireland, where I grew up.  They are currently operating and testing in Oranmore, which is just outside of Galway city on the west coast of Ireland. 

Under normal circumstances, Amazon Prime Air would be part of the discussion, but they recently laid off a number of their staff. By all accounts, they are currently outsourcing the manufacture of their drones to Aernnova in Spain, as well as FACC in Austria. For now, we'll file Amazon Prime Air under one to watch.

Getting started with delivery drones.

If you want to begin a drone delivery program, it’s important to understand the main obstacles to getting started, and you’ll need to have a firm grasp on a litany of acronyms. Some of the main acronyms include:

At the moment, there are a very limited number of pilot programs, and there are a few reasons for this. First, you need a waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) if you want to fly your drone Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) in the United States. Acquiring one of these waivers is no easy feat, so unless you can see your pizza shop, it's not going to be able to deliver to you. 

Next is Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM). Realistically, there aren't that many drones flying in 2020 in the midst of the pandemic. However, it's not that hard to imagine a future when your local Whole Foods, Target, CVS, Walgreens, Barnes and Noble, Domino’s, and even Lowe’s will all be flying drones over our heads. Without UTM, drones will be crashing and dropping out of the sky. There are several startups operating in this area such as OneSky who are trying to put some order on the chaos but, for the moment, it's still the wild west. 

Also, drones are not supposed to fly within a five mile radius of an airport. In urban areas, because of the number of small airfields, it's becoming increasingly rare to ever be more than five miles from any airport. So, if you want to deliver in urban areas, then you're going to need to apply for a Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC). This process can be automated and many Ground Control Stations will allow you to automate the application. Unfortunately, LAANC's are not available at every airport.  

Choosing a delivery drone.

Right now, delivery drones aren't commercially available. You can't buy a DJI or Parrot drone that will deliver your medications. And you can't buy a Wing drone and use it for your own deliveries. If you are interested in building a drone, RIIS can create both the software app for your customers, as well as a custom built drone. Rest assured, you can have a much better answer for the customer who keeps asking you when they can get a pizza delivered by drone.

For additional information about the future of drone delivery, follow these links: