Monday, January 30

Drone delivery has been fighting for years to become a reality. This is how the sector wants to finally achieve it


No one said the road was easy. Nor short. The sector of delivery He has been trying for a few years now to promote one of his greatest dreams on a large scale, the implementation of a technology called to revolutionize delivery with fast and agile services: drones. In 2013 Amazon was sure that it would achieve it in a matter of five years; the reality, almost a decade and an investment of more than 2,000 million dollars later, is that it seems to want to take off even now.

And the case of the giant e-commerce It’s not the only one.

Prime Air, with an eye toward the end of the year. It will not be in 2018, as it aspired almost a decade ago, but after multiple problems and delays, Amazon finally manages an approximate date to promote its delivery service with drones, Prime Air. And it expires in a matter of months. In mid-June, the multinational explained that it will implement it in Lockeford, a small town in California, “at the end” of this year. Now the firm is going a little further and wants, more or less around the same time, the service also expand to College Station, Texas.

In both cases, Amazon targets small or medium-sized towns —the first has around 3,000 inhabitants; the second does not reach 120,000—and with a certain symbolic value due to its link with the aviation or research sector. Its objective: to mark a turning point and, perhaps, finally achieve the massive deployment that Amazon has been aspiring for years, going beyond the anecdotal tests and pilot phases that it has carried out to date. CNET specifies that it has opted for hexagonal drones capable of reaching 80 km/h with just over two kilos of cargo.

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The goal: to fulfill the distribution of packages with that weight in just over half an hour.

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Amazon MK27-2 design, with hexagonal structure.

Walmart, in the same race. Amazon is not the only one that has made a move in recent months. The American chain Walmart recently announced its plans to expand the drone delivery service to four million homes in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Texas, Utah and Virginia. Hand in hand with DroneUp, it aimed to make deliveries from more than 30 stores.

The objective is to take advantage of one of its great advantages, its wide penetration in the US retail market, which means that nearly 90% of the US population lives less than 20 km from some of its stores. Before, it had already carried out pilot projects. It is not your only bet The retail giant has just signed an agreement to buy 4,500 electric delivery cars from Canoo and would already have the patent for a hybrid service of autonomous cars and drones.

The Alphabet Movement. Google’s parent company is also in the race to achieve drones capable of transporting merchandise. A few days ago his firm Wing presented its model lineup, a catalog of prototypes designed from the premise that the load must represent 25% of the ship’s mass. Their devices aspire to cover different merchandise loading needs.

“We can have tiny ships for pharmaceutical delivery, large for shipment fulfillment, long range for logistics flights, and floating platforms dedicated to city delivery,” the company says, alongside schemes of various sizes.

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Wing prototypes.

A long, hard-fought race… In the race for better delivery systems are not only giants like Alphabet, Amazon or Walmart. Zipline and MultiCare just announced their plans to drone in medical supplies and samples beginning in 2024 in Washington. It’s not the first territory Zipline is looking at, as it has already targeted hard-to-reach spots on remote islands in Japan, a possibility being exploited in China as well.

In the effort to take advantage of the possibilities of drones for delivery, names like UPS or Yamoto and CycloTech also stand out, two companies that reached an alliance not long ago to go a little further and develop eVTOL capable of transporting large loads. Its CCY-01 design actually aspires to move up to 45 kilos 40 kilometers away.

… And fraught with challenges. The best example of how complex it is to extend the model on a large scale is left by Amazon and its Prime Air service. “The challenge is: How do you get items to customers quickly, cost-effectively, and most importantly, securely, in less than an hour? And how do you do it in a way that you can scale?” in June the multinational.

“It’s relatively easy to use existing technology to fly a light payload a short distance that’s within your line of sight, but it’s a very different challenge to build a network that can deliver to customers in large communities.” The challenge, they insist, is to achieve a system that can go beyond small-radius shipments and capable of detecting and avoiding obstacles.

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Images | Walmart, Amazon and Wing

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