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All you wanted to know about: Drone deliveries

K VENKATASUBRAMANIAN | Updated on November 27, 2017

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Until now, Drones were only used to deliver misery to militants in the hiding by dropping bombs on them. But some companies have discovered a more peaceful use for that tiny helicopter-like vehicle – delivering parcels to us lawful denizens. Ever since the largest online retailer Amazon announced last year that it plans to deliver packages through unmanned aerial vehicles or drones, there has been considerable interest in them, with online shoppers looking forward to their purchases being air-dropped at their doorstep (or rooftop) in style.

When Amazon founder Jeff Bezos recently visited India, he was besieged by questions on whether India, and not the US, would be the first test market for drone deliveries. But express service provider DHL has already beaten Amazon in the game as it is set to deliver parcels to an island through a ‘parcelcopter’. Google has reportedly been doing test flights for the past couple of years in Australia.

What is it?

Octocopters or pacelcopters or paketkopters are small flying vehicles that operate without human intervention. They are expected to be battery-operated with battery lives of at least 30-45 minutes. These devices are expected to carry items that weigh about 2.3 kilos and the delivery radius is expected to be about 16 kilometers, according to Bezos. The parcel is expected to be delivered within 30 minutes. Incidentally, 86 per cent of Amazon’s parcels fall into this 2.3 kilo bracket.

Why is it important?

Drone deliveries seem very sci-fi today. But they may end up solving quite a few logistics problems. For instance, DHL plans to launch a pilot project for paketkopter deliveries in four to six weeks, through which it plans to deliver medication and other necessary goods to Wadden Sea Islands, Germany. The kopter would fly for 45 minutes to reach its destination. From there a local courier company would pick up the parcel and deliver it to customers. The DHL paketkopters can carry parcels weighing only up to 1.2 kilos.

Google has been testing drone delivery of radios, dog treats and cattle vaccines in Queensland, Australia for a two years now.

Why should I care?

Given the roadblocks and potholes in many Indian cities and the snail-paced traffic, wouldn’t flying things around in drones be a nifty way to sort out all the logistics problems? Both companies and customers can gain much from the time saved. Imagine how well this would work in emergency situations. But even if it sounds a great idea, getting from theory to practice may take quite some doing.

For one there are safety issues. Aerial deliveries in most countries will be subject to a whole host of approvals. The aviation authorities in the respective countries need to give their stamp of approval. The US aviation authority FAA has not allowed any unmanned aerial vehicles to deliver parcels as yet. It has indicated that until a set of rules are framed for drones, it would not allow these vehicles to crowd its air space. Bezos has hinted the technology aspect of the drone isn’t really the challenge. It is the regulatory aspect that may take time. Some reports peg the timeline to be not earlier than five years from now.

The bottomline

The idea of getting smartphone which you ordered dropped in through your bedroom window may sound appealing. But what technology proposes, the regulators may easily dispose.

Published on October 06, 2014

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