Get your pizza delivered by drone

July 29, 2016 OpenSystems Media

Imagine ordering a pizza or a prescription form your pharmacy, and it gets delivered in a manner of minutes. But the delivery “person” is a drone rather than your traditional delivery person. Sounds far-fetched, doesn’t it? Actually, it’s not.

According to Charles Byers, IoT Systems Architect in Cisco’s Corporate Strategic Innovation Group, “Drone fleets for package delivery sound like science fiction, but the drones are almost at our doorstep—literally. Business plans for drone mail or product delivery are on boardroom tables at some of the biggest companies in the world.”

The difference maker in this technology is what we are coming to know as fog computing. That’s where the edge devices, the drones in this case, or even the sensors on the drones, communication with the cloud.

Cisco isn’t saying much, but it’s clear that they have a big stake in what’s taking place. It’s not necessarily the drones themselves that interest Cisco, but the infrastructure that’s required to make such a scenario comes to fruition (think networking and storage). However, the chicken-and-egg theory applies here. Without drones, there’s no need for an infrastructure. Without the infrastructure, the drones that would be used for this type of delivery service would be useless.

Picture your local pizza joint with a dozen drones sitting on its rooftop. You place an order, it gets prepared, and it gets loaded onto the drone. The drone takes off and lands on the perch at your home. That same scenario could play out with just about any product that needs to be delivered, and it’s not too far off.

Even though no one is going public with a log of information, it appears that the FAA wants to be the ruling body here. They may have to deal with tens of thousands of takeoffs and landings of these devices. And clearly, regardless of the end application, security is paramount.

The perch itself, the way it’s being envisioned today, is a metal plate that’s 18 in.2, as shown in the figure. Within the base of the plate is a trap door, from which “packages” are loaded and unloaded. The drone lands on the four corner posts.

A magnet on each post ensures a secure landing. It can also handle the charging of the drone. By reversing the polarity of the magnets, the drone can easily be launched from the perch. A strain gauge built into the perch can perform a self-test before the drone takes off to ensure that everything is in order. It can also detect if vandals are trying to damage or steal the drone.

The perch can either live by itself on a residence, or it can be one of many on the business making deliveries. It can also be part of a mobile perch, or set of perches on top of or inside a delivery truck.

Think about a FedEx truck getting loaded at the distribution center, driving to a central location, then releasing the drones to deliver packages. Upon delivery, the drones return to the truck which returns to the distribution center to reload. Delivery time is cut considerably.

Finally, depending on the application, such a drone can be equipped with cameras capable of streaming up to 20 Mbits/s. So in addition to deliveries, the drone can handle surveillance-related tasks.

Clearly there are many kinks to be ironed out, but a lot of thought has already gone into this concept. And from the looks of it, a workable solution is just off the horizon.

Rich Nass, Embedded Computing Brand Director
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