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Transportation Network Technology

DRONENET: An Internet of Drones 108

In a series of posts on his blog, military theorist John Robb outlines what he thinks will be the next big thing — "as big as the internet," as he puts it. It's DRONENET: an internet of drones to be used as an automated delivery service. The drones themselves would require no futuristic technology. Modern quadrotor drones are available today for a few hundred dollars, and drone usage would be shared across an open, decentralized network. Robb estimates the cost for a typical delivery at about $0.25 every 10 miles, and points out that the drones would fit well alongside many ubiquitous technologies; the drone network shares obvious parallels with the internet, the drones would use GPS already-common GPS navigation, and the industry would mesh well with the open source hardware/software community. Finally, Robb talks about the standards required for building the DRONENET: "Simple rules for drone weight, dimensions, service ceiling, and speed. Simple rules for battery swap and recharging (from battery type, dimension, etc.). Simple rules for package containers. Simple rules for the dimensions and capabilities of landing pads. ... Decentralized database and transaction system for coordinating the network. Rules for announcing a landing pad (information from GPS location and services provided) to the network. Rules for announcing a drone to the network (from altitude to speed to direction to destination). Cargo announcement to the network, weight, and routing (think: DNS routing). A simple system for allocating costs and benefits (a commercial overlay). This commercial system should handle everything from the costs of recharging a drone and/or swapping a battery to drone use."
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DRONENET: An Internet of Drones

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  • by Baldrson ( 78598 ) * on Saturday January 05, 2013 @01:41PM (#42488597) Homepage Journal
    IPv6 wireless mesh networking between the drones for 3 reasons:

    1) Drones keeping each other informed of their vectors for distributed traffic control.

    2) Additional revenue for Internet service provision to wide area near-lines-of-sight of sight to the drones current aloft. This has the added benefit of actually bootstrapping Paul Baran's original intention of packet-switching []: route around the damage which, in this case, is damage to the Internet now potentiated by increasing centralization of internet infrastructure.

    3) IPv6 offers the potential to finally put into place what I called "the primary discipline of network architecture" when I was designing Knight-Ridder/AT&T's multi-city videotex [] architecture back in the early 80s: "The terminal is merely the host computer nearest the customer." Getting rid of the client-server paradigm is key to recapturing the internet's potential.

    Get in touch with David P. Reed regarding the strategic approach to take for wireless mesh networking in this new regime [].

    "I'd strongly encourage people today to ignore the IETF, and get focused on mobile, unlicensed wireless, highly reconfigurable and pervasive networking. Pursue overlays and co-existence, and create the next bigger "Internet" - the universal glue for networking things together. "

    -- David P. Reed

    Open Cobalt's synchronization architecture [] is a good option for an open peer-to-peer network synchronization standard currently in operation. But, as I said about the wireless mesh standard, contact David P. Reed, as this synchronization standard is based on Reed's PhD thesis [], which, with minor modifications, I adopted for videotex architecture clear back in 1982 and it still has no RFC.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      A few problems:
      1. How can governments tax this? (if they can't, they won't approve it.)
      2. How can you avoid trees, power lines, wind gusts that would take down the drones, etc.?
      3. How can you avoid people putting explosives or hazardous wastes on the damn things?
      4. Who wants drones flying over their houses all the time?
      On the other hand:
      1. It has potential to overcome slow postal deliveries.

      • by Wingman 5 ( 551897 ) on Saturday January 05, 2013 @02:14PM (#42488843)

        1. The same way they tax cars, require them to be registered with a yearly registration fee.

        2. Don't let anything fly anywhere, set up traffic corridors that are not near trees, power lines, and give enough space for a drone to correct itself after it gets hit by a strong wind gust.

        3. Again the same way you do it with cars. You make rules and laws and if people break them there is a penalty.

        4. The similar people who don't care if they live near a busy noisy street. And these will be electric, the nosiest part of any moving device is the engine, being electric instead of gas, there will be minimal noise. For one crashing in to your house, yes it could happen, but the safety level would need to get pretty high if people started to use these for widespread use. No one would ship with them if there was a 1 in 10 chance you would loose what you where delivering. For the ones that do crash the government can require liability insurance to be on them, just like cars.

      • by icebike ( 68054 )

        Not to mention the random kid with a sling shot or bb gun.

        These things would have to avoid airports and remain well below 1200 feet AGL. They would become popular targets. Drug dealers would steal them and re-purpose them.

        • by Sabriel ( 134364 )

          Of course, there is the slight problem of stealing a drone without it and forty other drones uploading real-time GPS-stamped video of your actions for law enforcement.

      • by Megane ( 129182 )
        4a. Not rednecks with shotguns.
    • Finally (Score:5, Funny)

      by leaen ( 987954 ) on Saturday January 05, 2013 @01:59PM (#42488747)
      If internet goes down then we can use RFC 1149.
      • by slick7 ( 1703596 )

        If internet goes down then we can use RFC 1149.

        The dronenet will never go down, because the banksters made it self-sustaining. It's called the politician.

    • by Baldrson ( 78598 ) *
      Also, Aviation Week reports [] that:

      Karlsruhe-based E-volo says the Ministry has commissioned a two- to three-year trial program to create a new category of ultralight aviation to cover the two-seat VC200 rotorcraft now in development. In Europe, ultralights are aircraft weighing less than 450kg and carrying up to two people.

      In place of a conventional helicopter rotor, E-volo's Volocopter has a fixed branch-like structure on which is mounted an array of battery-powered, electrically driven, individually cont

    • well, i think bigger devices could haul larger products, but these smaller ones could be used to send data in large open areas, with perhaps a power station near by at somebodies house, they could be licensed to the home owner and they could be reimbused with a bit extra on the power usage, you could even put some solar panel and a wind farm near by. As far as autonomous delivery though fedex and UPS might be interested in that, i am sure they are paying alot for those big planes to travel around the worl
    • This is potentially a great thing to do with drones, if you leave the physical goods delivery network idea out of it. Long-flying drones, probably buoyant and/or winged (why not an inflatable plane full of hydrogen and made of something flame retardant, bellied with a battery and topped with solar film?) can finally solve the "last mile" problem until we come up with something cleverer.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    current batteries only allow for ~~ 15 minute flights on multirotors, and this diminishes significantly as you add weight. You may be able to deliver small bags of weed or something a mile or two away

    • Everything does not need to be a Heli- variant. If standards are in place you could go with a much more efficient normal flight and solve the landing via ILS [] or a VTOL [] system on the drones.
      • Everything does not need to be a Heli- variant. If standards are in place you could go with a much more efficient normal flight and solve the landing via ILS [] or a VTOL [] system on the drones.

        How about fixed wing craft for long distance, and mid-air transfer of the cargo onto a quadrocopter (or similar) operating near the recipient for the takeoff/landing?

    • by flyingfsck ( 986395 ) on Saturday January 05, 2013 @02:00PM (#42488763)
      Weed is too cheap. It would have to be coke (or HP printer ink) to make it economical.
    • Re:not feasible (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 05, 2013 @02:03PM (#42488783)

      current batteries only allow for ~~ 15 minute flights on multirotors, and this diminishes significantly as you add weight. You may be able to deliver small bags of weed or something a mile or two away

      Great for drug dealers! Drone comes with money, replace money with drugs, and off it goes!

      If the cops get it, well, who are they going to bust?

      Terrorists will use this too for bombs and to crash these into the engine intakes of jet liners.

      Then I see child pornographers using this technology to spy on little kids.

      And of course, people will use this to spy on politicians.

      I think I've outlined the major arguments that will cause these things to be so regulated that the costs will be prohibitive - in the US.

      • Great for drug dealers! Drone comes with money, replace money with drugs, and off it goes!

        If only it were so easy...

        If the cops get it, well, who are they going to bust?

        I'm guessing they'd start with the house that looks/sounds like a robotic beehive.

      • I think I've outlined the major arguments that will cause these things to be so regulated that the costs will be prohibitive - in the US.

        And of course drug dealers, terrorists, and child pornographers will be careful to only use government-approved, registered drones.

      • by poity ( 465672 )

        Shoot down drone. Free money/drugs!

  • The drones fly in the sky and when they decide to kill us all, we'll at least be expecting it.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    1) incompatibility with existing aviation
    2) too easy to steal a drone for all kinds of purposes
    3) the terrorist implications are awesome
    4) too many legal implications for accidents which are extremely

  • However, Fedex and UPS may be good candidates for using autonomous aircraft.
  • by fantomas ( 94850 ) on Saturday January 05, 2013 @01:59PM (#42488749)

    Good luck on persuading the authorities in New York, London, Paris etc that you want to fill the urban airspace with drones. How will you manage 'collision detection' in its very real and physical form if this becomes popular and there are large numbers flying around? How will they talk to other air traffic (e.g. police / ambulance helicopters)? Will they be able to re-route if emergency services wish to land rapidly? How about environmental lovers concerned about the effect they'll have on local birdlife?

    I guess it is manageable but a> you'll need some fine control systems to be built b> you'll have to persuade the public that lots of little buzzing machines are a good thing and not annoying and c>you're insured against the occasional fail (if you have "millions" operating, I expect some will fall out of the sky, 5kg dropping from 100m in the air onto a city crowd?)

    • by Gorobei ( 127755 ) on Saturday January 05, 2013 @03:09PM (#42489175)

      The bigger problem is that NYC, LDN, Paris, etc, don't need this at all: we already have last mile delivery infrastructure...

      Right now, 150 restaurants will deliver food directly to me. Same for local liquor stores, supermarkets, pharmacies, etc. I'm told illegal drugs work the same way. For point-to-point one-offs, messenger services fill the need. Same for large items via van service. Hell, I can even ship my kids to playdates as needed via town car.

      Sheesh, I've been in the middle of a public park and ordered 10 pizzas for a birthday party. 30 minutes later, a bike delivery guys shows up with them.

      • by Gorobei ( 127755 )

        Oh, and last major item delivered to my home was a christmas tree. Bought it from the Serbian guy four blocks away (discount for dec 24th, after Christmas he has to rebrand the trees as "new year trees" and sell them to Russians.) Delivered free to my living room in ten minutes by a homeless guy working as a tree hauler ($20 tip, he said he delivers 12 trees a day average, more power to him.)

      • by jon3k ( 691256 )
        Nice for densely populated places, but for more suburban places those services don't really exist, except for pizza delivery. And it's possible that those also aren't necessarily delivered in the most cost effective fashion. You could purchases several of the super high end multirotor copters [] for the salary of one bike messenger, let alone anyone using cars to deliver. And it could, in theory, deliver far more quickly than a person possibly could.

        I think the big problem is weight. We need copters tha
    • by mikael ( 484 )

      Each drone would emit a radio signal . When other drones detect that signal they would slow down accordingly. The radio signal could encode location as GPS coordinate and altitude, as well as velocity.

    • by Baldrson ( 78598 ) *
      From TFA: "Uncontrolled flight is possible over most of the US (except for cities, which are going to miss out on this, like so many other post-industrial innovations)."
    • by jon3k ( 691256 )
      Most of these are simple engineering challenges we've already solved with airplanes already (transponders, etc). I think mostly it would just be a matter of the FAA finally revising the rules for sUAS. Maybe any company operating these drones has to electronically send flight paths in real time to the local air traffic controller? There are also ways to make sUAS that are safe for flying around birds and people [].
  • The ability to have autonomous vehicles is immensely powerful. Flying drones is stupid and can be dismissed out of hand - but the technology to do this with the road network is already here.
  • by wbr1 ( 2538558 )
    Let me hack the network then net/otherwise intercept this drone delivering a 500 galaxy S iiiii.
  • by ohnocitizen ( 1951674 ) on Saturday January 05, 2013 @02:08PM (#42488815)
    Saw this gem in a run on sentence:

    the drones would use GPS already-common GPS navigation

    What is "GPS already-common GPS" exactly?

  • The system has to be able to handle delivery of more useful items than misplaced iPhones. Like groceries. A standard tote container (22"L (550mm) x 15"W (390mm) x 10"H (250mm)) is probably the minimum useful load size. There really isn't much demand for moving envelope-sized objects around any more. This is the same reason that pneumatic tube systems remain a niche product.

    It's possible to scale up battery powered quadrotors [] to that size. But they get a bit large for urban operation.

  • Ball drones (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Animats ( 122034 ) on Saturday January 05, 2013 @02:18PM (#42488863) Homepage

    Check out this ball drone [] from Japan. This can be operated safely in tight spaces.

    • I like it!

      Now add a few lasers and you you got the training drone of Star Wars.

    • Last time I read about this ball drone the estimated battery life was around 15 minutes, making it useful for a very limited range. Also, this ball "drone" is still remote-controlled, putting it definitely outside of the drone category, although similar devices have been adapted to autonomous fly even by hobbyists [].

      Unless someone can get a power source with better weight/stored energy ratio than the batteries usualy found at these devices, those drones will still be toys. Maybe a buoyant/quadcopter hybrid c

      • Maybe a buoyant/quadcopter hybrid could overcome this, using far less energy to stay flying and depending on volume, a useful payload capacity.

        But then you have a significant problem with energy expenditure in high wind conditions, et cetera. It doesn't make unmanned dirigibles useless but it does restrict them to actually being fairly large, and only going to prepared locations in the boonies.

        In short you would probably have to use a turbine for power generation and main thrust and VTOL is expensive in energy no matter what kind of engine you use, it's a bad idea.

  • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Saturday January 05, 2013 @02:18PM (#42488869) Journal

    At least this idea isn't new in trying to use alternative means then road haulage to deliver packages. In The Hague the horse and cart was RE-introduced (we are not that backward here) to deliver packages in a shopping street because it looked nice. In Amsterdam packages can also be delivered by the canal to avoid the roads. These are old techs, re-introduced. But newer versions are in Utrecht were shops have their good delivered by large trucks to a central location from which they are then distributed to the actual shop by small electric carts pulling small wagons, this to avoid large trucks blocking the roads which are one way streets mostly (no way to pass a parked truck). The bike messenger is a feature of many a large city for a long time now.

    A reverse idea is in place in some crowded areas were waste is sucked into the ground and away to be collected in a central area.

    These ideas are all nice BUT they lack the flexibility that the motor car has brought to our world. I can send packages by truck that would kill a bike rider, that same truck can also carry a single envelope to its destination. The only reason to use alternatives that are never as flexible, are because trucks take up a LOT of space. But you also already need the roads anyway so it is only in the most crowded areas that alternatives spring up.

    Now... what is it about inner cities that makes me worry about aerial delivery by small drones. Massive buildings of wildly varying heights which already make it an adventure to cycle or even walk, let alone fly an underpowered drone carrying god knows what. As a mailman one Christmas, I delivered bottles of mercury to a dentist. Dropping out of bag, it did no harm, dropping from 100 meters...

    Please correct me if I am wrong, but ambulance helicopters do NOT land between two high-rises in NY do they? One cliff is already dangerous enough I would think. What makes you think that a far smaller device, flown by cheap electronics or an operator who connection might or might not work (again, inner cities are not known for their un-interrupted radio signals, for that matter, high-rises mess with GPS too).

    This idea doesn't need new tech? I know of no drone tech that allows it to operate on its own in complex 3d environments. Military drones have an operator and fly in clear skies and land and take of in wide open areas. Search youtube for remote controlled airplanes and SEE the "state of the art" tech. Especially the landings. Whooo! I want THAT going on all around me. There is a reason these people operate on remote fields with rules like "NEVER FLY TOWARDS A PERSON" (often broken but only with other members of the pack).

    It is a nice idea, small drones flying around carrying packages but it just isn't practical for a long time until AI's are a LOT better, this isn't just about landing a 747 by autopilot were the auto pilot doesn'thave to think but just follow the math rules programmed into it. An AI drone needs to fly around people, unknown obstructions, unpredictable weather and all that with a cargo shape/weight behavior that is unpredictable. Box with weights rolling around inside it, good luck stablizing that AND dealing with a sudden gust of wind.

    Seriously, look at youtube and the art of drones, we are still in the steam powered car era. Someday maybe but not today and not this decade.

    • "I can send packages by truck that would kill a bike rider"

      That is intriguing, at some point in time we would have both a reliable delivery system AND a biker-free traffic.. I, for one, welcome our biker-maiming overlords!

  • I've already specced out the plans for my "retrievable drone capture net", almost ready to patent it. It's going to be a profitable year!
  • by Anonymous Coward

  • What if people get annoyed by the drones flying over their house, and shoot them down with catapult? Also flying over people's house could cause some privacy concern... I could mount some cameras on my drone, and fly over Girl Next Door (TM)'s house when she's having a shower.

  • by bluescrn ( 2120492 ) on Saturday January 05, 2013 @03:13PM (#42489205)
    No, it ain't going to happen.

    Fleets of small multicopters overhead would get annoyingly noisy, and they'll crash fairly frequently - quadcopters fall out of the sky if any component fails (motor/prop/speed controller/flight controller/battery). And in urban areas, a crash has a fairly high chance of either hitting somebody directly, or causing an accident indirectly by distracting a driver.

    Electric multicopters also have very limited range (Most high-end hobbyist setups for aerial photography max out at around 15min flight time) and lifting capability. The only deliveries that would be worth attempting with drones would be illegal ones - getting drugs or guns across borders, for example...
    • The real question is how this is an improvement over avian carriers, once a cornerstone of long distance communication.

  • by scottbomb ( 1290580 ) on Saturday January 05, 2013 @03:15PM (#42489225) Journal

    This whole discussion is about as ridiculous as the flying cars we were supposed to have 20 years ago.

  • but think about the utility of having a container standard for smaller objects that would be

        - nestable
        - stackable
        - designed to be manipulated/carried by robots
        - has a self-describing tag or at minimum a reference in a standard form to an internet object

    that you could use interoperably in a variety of storage/transport applications

    • Isn't that why Amazon bought Kiva Systems? Such a thing more or less exists already, in automated warehouses. Probably nobody has managed to become standard, since such systems aren't exactly common, but they do exist.

  • Autonomous unmanned flying vehicles operating outdoors with minimal supervision? I think we'll see secure Internet voting before we see that. I think cars that are able to drive themselves will happen first, too. Just for starters, what happens when the wind speed exceeds the speed the vehicle can achieve? It would have to land safely... and then what? Not to mention avoiding power lines, staying out of restricted airspace, making the system secure, batteries dying at inopportune times, communications issue
  • I'm pretty sure some guy have already failed to start a drone delivery business.

  • I'm sure teenagers will have a great time downing these things. Stone plus string makes a rotor-tangler. Just use atlatl or traditional cartoon dennis-the-menace slingshot. With luck, you get someone's delivery. At the very least you get a mangled drone to strip for ebayables.

  • and the idea is genius. This could never happen without some company pioneering the idea in the private industry. Even if you had the drones flying over major highways, people would get freaked out at flying packages without some kind of massive marketing campaign.
  • Unfortunately there are only a few countries where the drones of today may be economical.

    Look at Ecuador for example, they have slow infrastructure and insane mountains everywhere. Drones would connect this relatively small country very well. They have small landing fields everywhere and possible delivery needs of all sorts.
  • Go ahead, put all those quad-rotor clay pidgeons up there. I'm a hillbilly with a 12 guage, what could go wrong???

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