Zipline Launches Long Distance Drone Delivery of COVID-19 Supplies in the U.S.

Eighteen months ago, we traveled to Rwanda to see how Zipline had made fast, dependable drone delivery a critical part of medical supply infrastructure on a national scale. But outside of Africa, Zipline’s long-distance delivery drones have had to contend with complex and crowded airspace, decades of stale regulation, and a healthcare system that’s at least (sort of) functional, if not particularly agile.  Along with several other drone delivery companies, Zipline has been working with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on small scale pilot projects over the past year or so to prove out the drone delivery concept, but progress has been slow. Now, though, COVID-19 has put enough additional stress on the U.S. healthcare system that the FAA has granted an emergency waiver to the Part 107 drone rules to allow North Carolina–based Novant Health to partner with Zipline on a beyond line-of-sight autonomous drone delivery service through Continue reading Zipline Launches Long Distance Drone Delivery of COVID-19 Supplies in the U.S.

High-Speed Robot Arm Hands Off Package to Delivery Drone

Urban delivery drones have their work cut out for them. We’re not really sure whether the whole business model for urban delivery by drone will ultimately make sense, but for it to have a chance at working, drones will certainly benefit from being as energy efficient and time efficient as possible. The biggest waste of time and energy happens during pickup and delivery, where the drone is hovering rather than moving. Hovering is necessary since these drones may be often delivering things (like food and beverages) that need to be kept mostly upright and not delivered by a parachute or something. If you were imagining the ideal drone delivery system, though, it would involve drones flying about at full speed, somehow picking up and delivering items safely without ever having to slow down. The pinpoint accuracy required by something like this isn’t something that we’re likely to see on a drone anytime Continue reading High-Speed Robot Arm Hands Off Package to Delivery Drone

ThereCraft’s Lifting Body Drone Acrobatically Delivers Packages With Pinpoint Accuracy

The delivery drone space is getting more and more crowded, but we tend to see slightly different flavors of the same basic designs and modes of operation. There are point-to-point multirotors, hybrid point-to-point systems (like tailsitters), and fixed-wing drones that require launch and landing infrastructure. One thing that all of these drone platforms have in common is scale—the current generation of autonomous commercial delivery drones are optimized for payloads of a few kilograms, delivering high value, time sensitive payloads in low infrastructure areas. There are plenty of use cases where small drones work just fine, but once you need more than a handful of kilograms at once, commercial options are few. The military has been experimenting with glider drones and parafoil systems that can handle hundreds of kilograms, and unmanned helicopters that can manage over a thousand kilograms at once. But in most cases, aerial cargo delivery for commercial or (even Continue reading ThereCraft’s Lifting Body Drone Acrobatically Delivers Packages With Pinpoint Accuracy

Zipline Wants to Bring Medical Drone Delivery to U.S. to Fight COVID-19

A year ago, we visited Rwanda to see how Zipline’s autonomous, fixed-wing delivery drones were providing blood to hospitals and clinics across the country. We were impressed with both Zipline’s system design (involving dramatic catapult launches, parachute drops, and mid-air drone catching), as well as their model of operations, which minimizes waste while making critical supplies available in minutes almost anywhere in the country. Since then, Zipline has expanded into Ghana, and has plans to start flying in India as well, but the COVID-19 pandemic is changing everything. Africa is preparing for the worst, while in the United States, Zipline is working with the Federal Aviation Administration to try and expedite safety and regulatory approvals for an emergency humanitarian mission with the goal of launching a medical supply delivery network that could help people maintain social distancing or quarantine when necessary by delivering urgent medication nearly to their doorsteps. In addition Continue reading Zipline Wants to Bring Medical Drone Delivery to U.S. to Fight COVID-19

How We Trained a Deep Neural Pilot to Autonomously Fly the Skydio Drone

A version of this article was originally published on Medium. The views expressed here are solely those of the authors and do not represent positions of IEEE Spectrum or the IEEE. We here at Skydio have been developing and deploying machine learning systems for years due to their ability to scale and improve with data. However, to date our learning systems have only been used for interpreting information about the world; in this post, we present our first machine learning system for actually acting in the world. Using a novel learning algorithm, the Skydio autonomy engine, and only 3 hours of “off-policy” logged data, we trained a deep neural network pilot that is capable of filming and tracking a subject while avoiding obstacles.

Drone Swarm Generates Smoke Screen for Huge Laser Displays

We’ve all seen drone displays—massive swarms of tiny drones, each carrying a light, that swarm together in carefully choreographed patterns to form giant (albeit very low resolution) 3D shapes in the sky at night. It’s cool, but it’s not particularly novel anymore, and without thousands of drones, the amount of detail that you can expect out of the display is not all that great. CollMot Entertainment, a Hungarian company that puts on traditional drone shows, has been working on something a little bit different. Instead of using drones as pixels, they’ve developed a system that uses drones to generate an enormous screen in the sky, and then laser projectors draw on that screen to create “the largest 3D display you have ever seen.”

A New Kind of Wing Dramatically Improves Flight for Small Drones

Drones of all sorts are getting smaller and cheaper, and that’s great—it makes them more accessible to everyone, and opens up new use cases for which big expensive drones would be, you know, too big and expensive. The problem with very small drones, particularly those with fixed-wing designs, is that they tend to be inefficient fliers, and are very susceptible to wind gusts as well as air turbulence caused by objects that they might be flying close to. Unfortunately, designing for resilience and designing for efficiency are two different things: Efficient wings are long and thin, and resilient wings are short and fat. You can’t really do both at the same time, but that’s okay, because if you tried to make long and thin wings for micro aerial vehicles (MAVs) they’d likely just snap off. So stubby wings it is! In a paper published this week in Science Robotics, researchers from Continue reading A New Kind of Wing Dramatically Improves Flight for Small Drones

Skydio 2 Review: This Is the Drone You Want to Fly

Let me begin this review by saying that the Skydio 2 is one of the most impressive robots that I have ever seen. Over the last decade, I’ve spent enough time around robots to have a very good sense of what kinds of things are particularly challenging for them, and to set my expectations accordingly. Those expectations include things like “unstructured environments are basically impossible” and “full autonomy is impractically expensive” and “robot videos rarely reflect reality.” Skydio’s newest drone is an exception to all of this. It’s able to fly autonomously at speed through complex environments in challenging real-world conditions in a way that’s completely effortless and stress-free for the end user, allowing you to capture the kind of video that would be otherwise impossible, even (I’m guessing) for professional drone pilots. When you see this technology in action, it’s (almost) indistinguishable from magic. 

SnotBot Drone Swoops Over Blowholes to Track Whale Health

1/4 The SnotBot drone passes over a blue whale at the moment of exhalation. Photo: Christian Miller/Ocean Alliance 2/4 A humpback whale rolls as a drone approaches. Photo: Christian Miller/Ocean Alliance 3/4 SnotBot passes over a surfacing humpback whale off the coast of Gabon, in Africa. Photo: Christian Miller/Ocean Alliance 4/4 The drone approaches a blue whale mother and calf in the Gulf of California. Photo: Christian Miller/Ocean Alliance Previous Next It’s a beautiful morning on the waters of Alaska’s Peril Strait—clear, calm, silent, and just a little cool. A small but seaworthy research vessel glides through gentle swells. Suddenly, in the distance, a humpback whale the size of a school bus explodes out of the water. Enormous bursts of air and water jet out of its blowholes like a fire hose, the noise echoing between the banks. “Blow at eleven o’clock!” cries the lookout, and the small boat swarms with activity. A crew Continue reading SnotBot Drone Swoops Over Blowholes to Track Whale Health