How armies of intelligent aerial robots will revolutionize the logistics industry

2 min read

Intelligent aerial robots are poised to change the transportation and logistics industry, but there are a few bottlenecks that we have to solve before aerial robots are seen in major cities delivering mails and meals.

1. Limited flight time

Your intelligent aerial robots’ flight time is severely limited by battery capacity. The intelligent aerial robot I built flew close to 20 minutes.

Flight time = (Battery Capacity x Battery Discharge / Average Amp Draw) x60

Your average amp draw depends on the motor you are using and the electronic speed controller you are using. As you can see the curve flattens out even if you have better batteries with higher battery capacity.

Brushless DC motors like these are commonly used in intelligent aerial robots and quadcopters

Exploded view of a Brushless DC motor. One has to make sure the circlip or bearing is not damaged on rough landing.

Given this limited battery capacity and low flight time, the aerial robot can often run out of battery and crash to the ground.

Source: DroneU

It happened to me once but my quadcopter survived with most parts intact!

2. Lack of Infrastructure for rapid deployment (imagine pitstops for aerial robots)

Logistics requires fast processing times — (in the case of drones- loading, unloading time). There is currently no infrastructure set up to make this happen. The process is not streamlined for aerial robots to revolutionize the future of logistics.

Simply landing it on the ground, then lifting it, unloading, loading it will take away precious minutes. If you scale that up to millions of packages and mail orders, that is extremely poor logistics efficiency.

Snaps of the intelligent aerial robot I worked on. It could fly for just under 20 minutes before we had to safely land and swap out the batteries. I used 10,000mAh 6S 30C Lipo Pack in version 2.0.

One of the biggest issues in logistics with conventional transport is that time lost stuck in traffic. A few miles can take up to hours in a packed city during peak hours. Aerial robots can circumvent all this and deliver straight to your door.

For this we need:

– Flight plan accounting for the location of charging spots

The latest developments on this came from researchers at Masdar institute who have developed an algorithm that maps out the flight path that maintains the highest (State of Charge or battery %) for given destinations and charging spots.

Source: Masdar institute

The red triangle is the base/starting point, blue squares are the charging stations and black dots the sites where the drone is supposed to drop off the packages

Source: getcorp

– Fast wireless recharging stations

A new company called GET is making this possible by giving any aerial robot 30 minutes of flight time for a mere 8-minute pit stop. This progress is incredible as I have previously worked for a wireless tech company where I was working on making aerial robots that can be charged wirelessly and have seen first hand how challenging it is.

The wireless power transmitter on the ground station charges the antenna/receiver on the drone. The ground station consists of wires setup up in a ring formation, consequently creating a ‘power cloud’ of electromagnetic field when the transmitter is turned on. The aerial robot can hover in this power cloud to charge itself to 100%.

The shorter the time it takes to charge a drone to 100%, the lesser time it will take the aerial robot to arrive at its destination! Time efficiency is critical when it comes to logistics.

– Massive Docking stations for rapid deployment

Integrating drones with package/parcel production line will really help with decreasing the travel time of the package to its destination. This streamlined approach when scaled up will lead to a huge amount of time and money savings for any logistics company.

Himanshu Ragtah I previously worked at Tesla -- where I was automating manufacturing testing for Tesla PowerWall, PowerPack, and SuperCharger. I’m also a TEDx speaker on bias due to AI (especially for women and minorities) and on intelligent transportation. Alongside that, I'm a SXSW judge, Kairos Society fellow, Hackernoon top publisher, and earlier on, I co-founded a SpaceX Hyperloop team with schools like Cornell, Princeton, and UMichigan and our prototype placed top 10 internationally -- and was featured on CNN, The Verge, Wired, and CNBC. I'm a fellow of Kairos Society-- an elite club of founders that identify society’s most pressing challenges and build new solutions to address them (with mentors like Sir Richard Branson, Bill Clinton, and Hayden of the CIA). I was previously awarded the NSERC (NSF equivalent in Canada) Industrial Undergraduate Student Research Award, open-sourced a 3D-printed prosthetic for US veteran amputees, led a drone robotics team, and judged top robotics contests (SXSW, PennApps, Lego League). Lastly, I helped design an innovative electronic music instrument that was featured on CBC and DigitalTrends.

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