Written by IEEE | November 27, 2020   |   Updated: December 4, 2020

COVID-19 and the increase of online shopping has many companies considering whether drone delivery may become the norm for holiday gifts and everyday deliveries. So if you’re wondering if a drone will be dropping off your holiday present this year, the reality may not be too far off. In addition to no-contact deliveries, companies see great environmental benefits in the utilization of the technology because drones are capable of using less transportation fuel to travel across town.

“Today, many companies use delivery services by bicycle or even on foot, but they can expose couriers to urban pollution and contagion in cases of a pandemic,” says IEEE Member Paulo Fernando Ferreira Rosa. “In addition, drones primarily use lithium polymer batteries, which are rechargeable and have a very low environmental impact when compared to fossil fuels.”

How Would Delivery Drones Work?

“Drones are rotary-wing aerial vehicles that can be autonomous or remotely piloted,” says Fernando Ferreira Rosa. “Recently, off-the-shelf drones have achieved a high degree of controllability and miniaturization, allowing them to perform navigation missions with dexterity in a very user-friendly interface. Drones have an important characteristic that has the ability to take off and land vertically, which makes them suitable for navigation in urban environments with obstacles and space restrictions.”

The work being done to power intelligent drones capable of maneuvering through complex city streets is only improving. According to an IEEE Spectrum article, researchers have developed an autonomous quadrotor to fly in “extreme acrobatic maneuvers with only onboard sensing and computation.”.

Learn more about deep drone acrobatics:

Algorithms have also been developed for drones to efficiently communicate with a base station or even communicate and work together with other drones to easily navigate the skies.

Are Drones Making Deliveries Now?

While many companies are hopeful and working toward implementing a logistics strategy and to gain the correct allowances within city limits to fly, it might be awhile before the package you ordered online will be dropped off by a drone.

“There are still bottlenecks for the large-scale implementation of this technological facility in modern life,” explains Fernando Ferreira Rosa.

See also Delivery Drones Could Hitchhike on Public Transit to Massively Expand Their Range

Drones and the technologists who work on them are still struggling with:

  • Battery autonomy is limiting tasks to short journeys
  • The payload that drones can carry
  • Airspace legislation that restricts drones in urban areas

Many research and engineering groups are working to solve these problems, and some companies are already testing out drone delivery. Fernando Ferreira Rosa is hopeful that curbside drone delivery will become a common life event. “We hope that in the near future this technology will be widespread and the autonomous delivery with drones will be a daily reality.”


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