Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Transportation Google Technology

Hidden Obstacles For Delivery Drones 215

Posted by Soulskill
from the cloaked-birds-of-prey dept.
An anonymous reader writes: A few days ago we talked over some of the difficulties faced by makers of autonomous car software, like dealing with weather, construction, and parking garages. Today, the NY Times has a similar article about delivery drones, examining the safety and regulatory problems that must be solved in addition to getting the basic technology ready. "[R]researchers at NASA are working on ways to manage that menagerie of low-flying aircraft. At NASA's Moffett Field, about four miles from Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., the agency has been developing a drone traffic management program that would in effect be a separate air traffic control system for things that fly low to the ground — around 400 to 500 feet for most drones. Much like the air traffic control system for conventional aircraft, the program would monitor the skies for weather and traffic. Wind is a particular hazard, because drones weigh so little compared with regular planes." Beyond that, the sheer scale of infrastructure necessary to get drone delivery up and running in cities across the U.S. is staggering. Commercial drones aren't going to have much range, particularly when carrying something heavy. They'll be noisy, and the products they're transporting will still need to be relatively close by. What other issues do Amazon, DHL, Google, and other need to solve?

Hidden Obstacles For Delivery Drones

Comments Filter:
  • How will the drones ensure that the recipient is the correct person? And how will they protect themselves against other people or drones stealing the cargo?
    • How will the drones ensure that the recipient is the correct person?

      They don't. Neither does a human delivery person. I have never been asked for an ID to receive a package, and most don't even ask for a signature.

      And how will they protect themselves against other people or drones stealing the cargo?

      They don't. Neither does a human delivery person when they leave a package on he porch, or in the mailbox.

      • by deroby (568773)

        I've had goods delivered worth hundreds and not even have to sign off for it. (not that those scribbles are worth much IMHO, I've never understood why they don't require a picture of the person accepting the goods... heck, have them hold the package with the label clearly visible, should make denial-ability (sp?) much more cumbersome than it is now)
        I've also had goods delivered worth peanuts that required showing my ID and the person in charge copying the number on some form and then me having to sign it.

        Co

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

          I've had goods delivered worth hundreds and not even have to sign off for it. (not that those scribbles are worth much IMHO, I've never understood why they don't require a picture of the person accepting the goods... heck, have them hold the package with the label clearly visible, should make denial-ability (sp?) much more cumbersome than it is now)

          They deliberately don't bother with such a high level of security because most of the time it isn't worth it. From a business point of view it's better to keep times spent on deliveries as short as possible until you have a loss somewhere, and from that point on that one address gets a little more attention from the driver.

          If you read the T&Cs they only guarantee to get "a signature", not actually deliver the package to a specific person most of the time. As long as someone signed for it it's your probl

  • The main problem is the overall uneconomical and generally nonsensical idea of using delivery drones. Trucks are simple and work well in bad weather. There's a huge non-employed workforce of people who can easily be trained to deliver packages. Delivery trucks can be powered by natural gas, which is so abundant that many oil rigs simply burn it off rather than going to the trouble of capturing it.

    in the general case, delivery drones don't work. Trucks do.

    • Further to this. If we do see self driving vehicles any time soon I would have thought that would have been infinitely preferable to drones. Some kind of system that gets you to meet the truck - calling or texting minutes before arrival. A bay that only has your parcel in it.

      A lot of parcels are shipped in standard boxes these days so that shouldn't be too difficult a system to build. It wouldn't replace a driver with odd or bulky parcels of course.

  • It's bad enough that someone can fly over your house at high altitude without you receiving any compensation, but, a bunch of drones added to the mix just undermines your own property rights.

    • It's bad enough people can walk past my driveway without compensation! I may not own the footpath but its crossing in front of my driveway!
      Those companies operating their pesky satellites orbiting overhead should be compensating me too.
      Don't get me started when the moon goes over head!

      You never bought the airspace above your house. It's not on the title of your property. Shut the fuck up you useless hick.

      • by tjstork (137384)

        Why are you so quick to give away for free something that a major corporation will make tons of money on? That transit conduit has a value and it is only because of government that I cannot get some value out of it. You can call me a hick all that you want, and maybe I am, but you're the one advocating a system where people are going to use a resource that you possess, for free, and without even a shred of protest. "Here Amazon, go ahead and make billions of dollars flying drones 500 feet above my house,

        • It's only because of the government that you cannot get value out of it?
          It's only because of the government that you have your property in the first place. You bought the land in exchange for certain rights. Why do you expect additional rights for free?

      • by Tom (822)

        You never bought the airspace above your house.

        You are wrong about that. I cannot legally build my house right over your house, even if it never touches the ground that you bought.

        Clearly, airlines are flying above without considering property rights below, so somewhere "your" airspace ends, but just because it's in the air doesn't mean it doesn't touch property rights.

        • The various flight ceilings on commercial aviation might speak to that, but I seriously doubt any court is going to interpret the law as being about property rights as opposed to public safety / nuisance.

          You have all sorts of protections from things that never touch your property, but they're definitely not defined by the property boundaries. For instance you can't demand that soundwaves do not enter your premises at all - instead you can possibly get a neighbours air conditioner moved so it isn't above a c

          • by ihtoit (3393327)

            there are no set boundaries on airspace in property. What there is, is reasonable use of airspace such that it does not interfere with others' use of the same airspace. For example, zoning laws mean that buildings are restricted in terms of height (more to do with the density of the ground than what the airspace is used for), but there are some circumstances, such as near airports, that clearly define for reasons of safety, where building construction may *not* encroach, such as approach lanes and ILS beam

        • by bondsbw (888959)

          I cannot legally build my house right over your house, even if it never touches the ground that you bought.

          I don't see the point here. Even if we assume I don't own air rights above my house, that doesn't mean that you do.

        • by jklovanc (1603149)

          Your airspace does end somewhere [wikipedia.org].

          The law, in balancing the public interest in using the airspace for air navigation against the landowner's rights, declared that a landowner owns only so much of the airspace above their property as they may reasonably use in connection with their enjoyment of the underlying land.

      • by u38cg (607297)
        Wrong. You do own the airspace. In some jurisdictions, you can in theory sue airlines for trespass and win nugatory damages. In others, the law has been specifically changed to allow overflight.
      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        We may need some new laws regulating things like tethered balloons and kites though. Currently anyone can buy one and set it up in their back yard, but if drones become popular they could end up being like those anti-aircraft balloons used in WW2.

    • I bet you wanted to sue Apollo astronauts for trespassing because was the moon was clearly above your house.

      • by tjstork (137384)

        There's actually an international treaty that prohibits countries from claiming property rights on celestial bodies due to their being in space. By signing that treaty, countries agreed that the property of space effectively belongs to the United Nations or whatever treaty body controls claims for it. But yes, suing for space is ridiculous, but, is noise pollution for airlines flying above your house as ridiculous? What about drones flying 500 feet overhead, or even 100 feet? I think as a property owner

        • by MightyYar (622222)

          Ultimately, your property "rights" are granted rights, not inalienable or natural rights. You don't own air rights or mineral rights for simple, pragmatic reasons.

          Hell, by international convention "conquest" is the most sure-fire way to get more real estate.

          As for noise pollution - people have been suing over that since the dawn of aviation. Sometimes they win, and sometimes they lose (hard to prove harm if you bought a house near an existing airport...). Over the years, we've made jets quieter, we've restr

          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            Ultimately, your property "rights" are granted rights, not inalienable or natural rights.

            You mean, just like all so-called "rights"?

        • by ihtoit (3393327)

          there is nobody stopping you from operating your own drone over your own land, as long as you don't cause a nuisance to others. Their enjoyment of the airspace over your land comes with the same condition: that they don't cause a nuisance to you.

    • ...a bunch of drones added to the mix just undermines your own property rights....

      Of course, that depends upon the altitude of the drones.

      .
      If they're flying at 50 feet, there is a definite issue.

      So the question becomes, how high do the drones have to fly before the issues they raise become moot?

    • by gweihir (88907)

      You want that slice of the universe over your house as well? Then better start policing it, if you can....

  • by ebonum (830686)

    "Wind is a particular hazard, because drones weigh so little compared with regular planes"

    I'm not so sure about this one. A 747 in a 20 mph cross wind does 20 mph sideways. A drone in a 20 mph cross wind does 20 mph sideways.

    When there is a gust (or any change in wind speed), there would be a difference. An object with a lot of mass will react more slowly to the same force. That said, once a 747 starts blowing sideways in the wind, making a correction is going to take more time and a larger force that i

    • by Animats (122034)

      "Wind is a particular hazard, because drones weigh so little compared with regular planes."

      Small drones don't have much inertia. They can be easily flipped by a small local wind gust. This is a big problem for drones that operate close to buildings, where there are eddies and turbulence as air hits the building. Pass the corner of a building and the wind situation may be completely different.

      Very smart and aggressive stability control systems are able to overcome this. See this drone from PSI Tactical [psitactical.com], which weighs about 0.5Kg and is supposed to be able to operate in winds up to 30MPH.

    • by DrJimbo (594231)

      Good points. I think the key concept is called Wing Loading [wikipedia.org] which is the ratio of mass to wing area. For example [wikipedia.org]:

      Effect on stability

      Wing loading also affects gust response, the degree to which the aircraft is affected by turbulence and variations in air density. A small wing has less area on which a gust can act, both of which [I think they are referring to low area and high mass] serve to smooth the ride. For high-speed, low-level flight (such as a fast low-level bombing run in an attack aircraft), a small, thin, highly loaded wing is preferable: aircraft with a low wing loading are often subject to a rough, punishing ride in this flight regime.

      IOW, what matters is the ratio of the mass to the wing area and not just the mass (weight) with no context. For example, if you have two round rocks of roughly the same mass and tie a very light wing to one of them (which makes the masses equal). The one with the wing will be more affected by gusts even though the masses are the same.

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      when the max speed of said drone is 21mph while it can just maintain the altitude then a wind of 23 becomes quite problematic especially if it transitions to it quickly.

  • Drones seem un-necessary. Why the return trip? Why not make the delivery vehicle....a "smart-bomb". A delivery vehicle that could be dropped from a [very] large plane and that descends in a very controlled fall to its destination. Maybe homing in on GPS, or using a small camera.. It would have just enough smarts to control its descent and make adjustments, but be disposable otherwise. Or tough enough to ship back to Amazon by "ground" shipping.

    • Of course, this raises the question... what if a drone delivers a package but never makes it back to "home base"? The loss of how many drones per year has Amazon figured into the business plan?
  • people in apartments or yards of an inappropriately small size, or with too many overhanging trees, will be blacklisted as the things crash repeatedly, they'll default to truck delivery.

    an equation of range vs weight will be used that ends up defaulting anything but a friggn' bottle opener to truck delivery.

    during questionable weather, shipments will be heavily delayed until the weather clears, and they'll default to truck delivery.

    bird flys into your shipment. kid throws a rock at it. whatever. re-shipm

    • by Tom (822)

      or with too many overhanging trees, [...] people (including me) will order $5 packages, wait for them to arrive, then steal the 'copter for parts. no real way to prove it didn't just crash, right?

      Which is why Googles system (lowering the parcel on a rope, the drone never comes even near ground) is superior to Amazons (land-and-release) system.

      In general, though, I do agree with you.

      • by BitZtream (692029)

        (lowering the parcel on a rope, the drone never comes even near ground)

        Until I grab the rope and pull the UAV to the ground.

  • Seems impossible. This would have to be some peer-to-peer/mesh network model of traffic control. I hope they aren't really planning on using ground-based radar for this. It would require too much infrastructure.

  • Imagine the chaos if the skies are full of these delivery drones - carrying shit everywhere - and for some reason they start dropping like flies. The random stuff dropping from the skies pelleting, in addition to the drones themselves.. surely this scene would fit into a sci-fi 'sharknado'-bad low-budget film as a surprisingly amusing scene.

    I want to see it happen either way.

  • by SoundGuyNoise (864550) on Monday September 01, 2014 @11:02PM (#47804051) Homepage
    Diaper services. The worst time to have a midair malfunction.
  • People plinking a drone when it flies over their yard (or any public field) and getting a free Xbox or whatever it was carrying.

    • by Paco103 (758133)

      It's like skeet shooting pinatas! This is so going to be so much better than clay pigeons!

  • If a drone malfunctions at 500ft, it's going to hurt when it lands on someone.
    • by BitZtream (692029)

      If a UAV of even 5 pounds drops from as little as 10 feet above your head, it can easily kill you.

    • For 3-5% of gross vehicle weight, each drone can have a safety parachute which activates automatically in the event of any stability failure or rapid drop in altitude. Failsafe systems can be engineered to protect the life of anyone who might be on the ground to several nines reliability. A decent drone recovery reward will get the equipment back - either for re-use or for evaluation of failure mechanism - and onboard camera(s) and real-time flight recording will ensure that sabotage is prosecuted ($100k a

  • by Electricity Likes Me (1098643) on Monday September 01, 2014 @11:57PM (#47804227)

    The drone delivery thing seems like a proxy for the fact that the regular postal system desperately needs a revamp to include more standardization. Basically, we need some system which acknowledges that parcel and package delivery is an increasingly important part of the process, and we want to receive things unattended.

    You can only sometimes get this now.

    If we had a system where we standardized mailbox sizes to some specification, and then licensed out some NFC/smart card system to let postal workers/delivery companies open them, then we might be getting somewhere. Sure, it's not perfect and it wouldn't be everywhere at once, but if you could simply buy the relevant thing at Home Depot and then delivery companies could be expected to use it, it'd be progress. Then the free-market innovates from there: various multi-tiered security products or the like.

    • Correct. Using delivery services in Canada, in my experience, were much more of a hassle and much more costly than they are in China. There is no chance drone delivery would be considered in China considering:

      I can order something from jd.com this morning and it arrives this afternoon COD.
      I can ship documents from the middle of China to Hong Kong within a business day or two for, in USD, a few dollars.
      I can ensure everything I arrives promptly and get automatic updates when items I'm shipping are either pic

    • by BitZtream (692029)

      If we had a system where we standardized mailbox sizes to some specification

      Done, been that way all my life (I'm almost 40).

      and then licensed out some NFC/smart card system to let postal workers/delivery companies open them, then we might be getting somewhere

      You mean some sort of key ... Again, done, group boxes have had keys all my life.

      but if you could simply buy the relevant thing at Home Depot

      Home Depot sales mailboxes, all of which meet all sorts of standard requirements for US Postal Service deliveries.

      You do realize that everything you've said has been around for, what, a century?

      There are even standards for positioning of the mailbox, not just size.

      I'm guessing you're not real observant and haven't noticed that all mailboxes are already the same size, basic shape

      • And you have missed all the subtlety of the problem. For one thing, there's no way anyone's fitting an iPad package into a mailbox, or even through a mailslot.

        There's no way to distribute or update keys rapidly enough to make them general use for delivery companies and the post.

        Which is the entire point: the century of mail was for mail with packages considered the exception. Special case enough to warrant needing to be physically present to receive them, or simply gambling nobody steals them when left on t

  • by nick_davison (217681) on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @02:22AM (#47804667)

    What other issues do Amazon, DHL, Google, and other need to solve?

    People. Bored, often too intelligent for their own good, people.

    How long before trolls figure out they can drive their cars close enough and in such a manner that self driving cars execute lane changes to avoid accidents and pull off the freeway? Or until someone realizes they can jam the car's sensors and the poor passenger, with no access to a steering wheel, can't convince the car to pull out of the open parking spot it's convinced it's barricaded in?

    How long before an Amazon delivery drone comes in to a house that's observed to regularly get deliveries and gets a blanket tossed over it before being purloined by nerds who just got a sweet free drone to try hacking?

    Wind gusts happen. You can factor in for a typical wind gust, a severe wind gust, a once in a century wind gust. You can factor in for different types of hardware failure, for power loss, etc. You can factor in for trees, for tall buildings, for cables... They're finite problem sets.

    But bored people? They're infinite.

  • There is already one full size helicopter, drone, making a daily repeat run from The US to Mexico. It is able to fly at any altitude that a human piloted helicopter can fly. For that matter the average commercial aircraft flying passengers is effectively a drone with a pilot only as backup these days. We will need a new label for low flying drones to distinguish them from larger drones. We also need to gain knowledge on items like fuel consumption for heavy lifter type drones. For example my s
  • No, it didn't say rresearchers anywhere in TFA.
    Do it right, at least.
  • we all go to work, school, and shopping using our helicopter backpacks.

  • ... for those idiots advocating shooting drones, check your local ordinances. It's illegal to discharge a weapon within city limits, subject to certain exceptions from which a drone is exempt.

"I have more information in one place than anybody in the world." -- Jerry Pournelle, an absurd notion, apparently about the BIX BBS

Working...