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Australia Transportation

Aussie Company Planning To Use Drones For Textbook Delivery 178

First time accepted submitter Michael Harris writes "According to The Age, an Australian company plans to use autonomous quadropters to deliver text books to University students in Sydney. Apparently the drone will locate you via your smartphone's GPS, fly autonomously to your location, and drop the book into your hands."
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Aussie Company Planning To Use Drones For Textbook Delivery

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  • by Dutchmaan ( 442553 ) on Tuesday October 15, 2013 @05:09AM (#45130137) Homepage
    Unless you're poor at catching in which case, lawsuit.. and profit.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 15, 2013 @05:12AM (#45130157)

    Delivering paper textbooks is probably cheaper than a month subscription to Telstra.

  • It worked well for Harry Potter.

  • Wait until someone (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Tuesday October 15, 2013 @05:25AM (#45130207)
    Orders a book for delivery to the US embassy ... just imagine panic!
  • As they perfect this technology, I imagine many other industries will be interested.

    drug smuggling

    deliveries of court orders

    weapons etc

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      No mobile phone or plate number to track deep into known high crime areas, just the hoodie copter flying out to your car with gang roundel.
      The FSB one for the starving US ex-gov workers who got out with a database retirement package.
      In Capitalist West Russian embassy drone is lucrative for you.
      Better than been a tourist mistaken for Snowden by the US embassy drone.
    • What makes you think drug smugglers have not been doing this? Since the paparazzi autopilot came out in 03 (and got refined by 06), it has been perfectly possible to build a DIY drone good enough to move a few tens of kilo's across borders.

      Considering the profit motive, and lucrative money for any nerds involved, it would not surprise me if they were one of the first non-military users of the tech.

    • by plopez ( 54068 )

      Pizza delivery

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 15, 2013 @05:31AM (#45130225)
    I work in commercial Australian aerospace, I do a lot of legal regulatory compliance and I'm a UAV freak. CASA won't give an AOC for this activity as it's inherently non-compliant. The regulations state the UAV should never be in a position that a failure (eg: engine/motor/lift) would cause injury or damage to property and this activity would need to fly over things. In addition to that, I know many of the CASA staff who are involved in AOCs, and they're quite conservative (no offence guys). They're all too worried about the part 61 changes in December which will shake up the whole industry (biggest change in decades) to take a risk on this. I actually spoke with some representatives a month or more ago when they briefed our company on the new regulatory changes and I specifically asked about the future of UAV regulations, they're aware of it's increasing prevalence but nothing will be changing under the new regime.
  • Payload? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by not_surt ( 1293182 ) on Tuesday October 15, 2013 @05:32AM (#45130227)

    The text books I remember were all freaking heavy and don't "quadracopters" (six-bladed quadracopters in this case by the looks of it) generally have a very limited payload?

    • Re:Payload? (Score:4, Funny)

      by nospam007 ( 722110 ) * on Tuesday October 15, 2013 @05:40AM (#45130259)

      "The text books I remember were all freaking heavy and don't "quadracopters" (six-bladed quadracopters in this case by the looks of it) generally have a very limited payload?"

      They're electronic books on a small USB stick I guess.
      But more seriously, this story misses a 'stupid' tag.

    • Hexacopter.

      They go up to octacopter for heavy lifting, like professional TV cameras that have been used to film some sporting events from above.

      • Having more blades isn't to help with heavier lifting (more smaller blades is actually less efficient than more bigger blades), it's to give some redundancy so that if one fails the whole machine is still capable of flying in a degraded fashion. Think RAID, but with an extra 2 dimensions.

        You need a minimum of 4 blades for stability, having 6 means that any 1 can fail and having 8 means any 2 can fail.

        • more smaller blades is actually less efficient than more bigger blades

          Gah. That doesn't make sense. Additional smaller blades is less efficient than fewer big blades. Big props are more efficient.

          • And yet, people who don't understand basic physics seem to think all these quad-/hex-/octo-copters should be scaled up.
        • It does give finer control though. Which is just what you want when you need to hold a heavy camera steady.

          • Actually, what gives finer control is a proper swashplate. All these multi-rotor aircraft pale in comparison to the performance and maneuverability of a traditional helicopter.
            • A swashplate is a precision-engineered device. Expensive, and in need of regular inspection and lubrication if you don't want something to jam. A quadcopter's rotots are just a high-torque stepper motor with a prop bolted on. They don't even have gears. Not much to go wrong with them.

              • Not much to go wrong, and not very efficient if you actually want to scale up and carry a decent payload, like a big professional video camera.
                • Yes, I do imagine the camera would be about the limit of what is practical using... what are we going to call these things? Polycopters? Polycopter technology. Any heavier, and conventional big-rotor-and-tail-rotor helicopter would be the way to go.

                  But then you've got to consider noise as well - at a big sports event, would an octocopter be quieter than a helicopter? The faster spinning, smaller rotors would generate a very different noise.

                  • Anything inside a stadium, they're unnecessary, since you can just do cable-suspended cameras. Anything suspended is going to be much quieter than anything flying.
            • Your traditional heli can only change attitude when the blades are facing along the correct axis. High performance quad/hex/octo motor controllers can accelerate/decelerate the prop noticeably at ~200hz and change the attitude smoothly, not in sinusoidal acceleration bursts based on the angle of a large slow-rotating prop. This is important for filming, to provide smooth stabilisation against gusts. If you really need the negative thrust, try using plain variable-pitch props (think heli tail-rotors) in a mu

              • That sounds like a horrible idea to even attempt fine image stabilization using the rotors themselves.
                • Rough image stabilisation is done on the frame, with fine stabilisation done with gimbal motors. However, the less the gimbal motors have to do the better, and large slow blades are... well... large and slow.

                  • Large? Yes. Slow? Not hardly. Think about how the two systems operate for a moment. On a direct-drive multi-rotor, rotor RPM directly controls thrust. If you want to increase thrust, you subtract the power needed to counter drag from whatever the motor is outputting, and whatever is left is available to accelerate the rotor. That means you have rapidly diminishing available power as your thrust increases. I question your claim of being able to meaningfully modulate thrust on a multi-rotor at 200Hz.

        • What exactly does 'failure' entail? Detaching and flying off at velocity while the copter is in flight? O__o

          • It could be a prop breaking from striking something, or a motor burning out, or a motor controller failing, or any of the wiring for any of the above being broken in some way. Once you are running 8 props you can even treat it as two joined quads, each with a completely redundant radio, GPS, battery, flight controller etc, so you don't ever have a single point of failure.

            • I wouldn't call any of those but the first a 'blade failing' as you did above, though.

              Makes me glad I'm not one of the engineers tasked with making these things stable.

    • maybe they should build a drone clone of a scaled down Chinook CH47 maybe about the size of a breadbox
      • If you dislike tedious hand-assembly of models, you could always build a scaled-down Mi-26 clone just by starting with an ordinary small helicopter...
  • If only... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bikin ( 1113139 ) on Tuesday October 15, 2013 @05:32AM (#45130231)
    there were a method to codify books as electromagnetic signals, and a transport network to deliver such signals to devices capable of displaying the decodified content. Imagine the added benefit of not having to fly around 1 or 2 kilos of material, with all the energy savings that would imply. nahh, that's impossible
    • Assuming these are rural areas with little-to-no internet, they could even use standard radio signals to transmit textbooks. There was a time when some people experimented with transmiitting programs over FM. Record the signal to a tape, put it in your commodore, and you had a working program. I'm sure the same could be done with books. They aren't that big. You could probably even have people dial into a dedicated computer for downloading books via a modem. The added benefit that you don't even need int
      • Hah I remember those days. Record your ZX Spectrum demo from a late night radio broadcast. I was never allowed to stay up late enough to do that :-(

    • there were a method to codify books as electromagnetic signals, and a transport network to deliver such signals to devices capable of displaying the decodified content. Imagine the added benefit of not having to fly around 1 or 2 kilos of material, with all the energy savings that would imply. nahh, that's impossible

      You're definitely underestimating the weight of all those 1's and 0's. Especially the 1's. Most people think the 0 would weight more because it is wider, but the 1 contains much more data and therefore has more mass. There will be millions of 1's and 0's for a single book, versus perhaps 300 pages for a printed copy. Obviously the printed copy weighs less and uses less resources.

  • When a car engine fails, the default behavior is to coast to a halt -- unless driving downhill! Even so, a car has emergency brakes, gear/engine braking, a human driver, etc.

    This scheme has no human in control (its "autonomous"), an externally provided destination ("connected to GPS on the users' mobile phone."), and no protection from a flying plastic bag or sheet fouling multiple propellors, turning it into a heavy unguided missile dropping onto the street below.

    To the founders -- densely populated cities are the wrong place for a drone. How about delivering books or medical supplies in the Australian outback? (with a petrol engined drone)

    • A human to deal with emergencies is possibly less reliable than a computer to deal with emergencies.

      Of course the computer should be pretty reliable - yet humans also occasionally suffer from catastrophic failure, such as a heart attack or stroke.

      A computer can reliably perform emergency routines, and won't panic like a human might do. Particularly when dealing with an inherently hard to control vehicle like an aircraft.

      A computer needs to be properly programmed (that is at the moment still an issue: partic

      • A properly trained, licensed, operator is better than software. For instance, he can determine if the situation is unrecoverable, and decide its better to crash into a mustard field instead of a children's playground (both of which look identical to this drone's sensors sensors). Of course, any computer support that augments the pilot is something good, not bad.

        Yes, air roads - in unpopulated areas - are probably a good idea for commercial drones.

        • I doubt a remote operator of a drone is better than software - if so, it's not for long, as development of these things is going faster and faster with the availability of more and more cheap, ready to go starter packages. Software can make faster decisions, and has basically the same info a human operator has on where to go: a map and a video feed, plus the various sensors that tell whether something is wrong. As such drones are mostly flying out of sight of the operator, this human operator can not look o

          • I kind of agree.Everybody always points out this example of crash into field/off a bridge, or run over a bunch of kids. Firstly, that's probably about .00001% of crashes, and secondly, an autonomous car could have all kinds of sensors. It would be pretty simple to figure out where the human bodies are using an infrared camera, and pick the route with the least number of bodies in the way.

            You could probably argue that the autonomous car would be much less likely to even have to make such a decision, since
            • ...wonder why we ever wanted to drive cars in the first place (ignoring racing...

              the funny thing is Racing is a more controlled environment than the public roads. it would actually be easier to automate a race car than a normal car that drives on the public road, because there is a more limited set of obstacles

              • Yeah, but with computers racing, it's not as exciting, or at least it's a different kind of exciting. My point being, that driving on public roads is kind of a time waste as far as I'm concerned, and I'll be happy when I can just read a book or play angry birds while my car drives me.
    • Some thoughts:
      1) Electric motors are more reliable than petrol engines - less moving parts etc
      2) There are spare props - these use 6, which means that 1 can completely fail and the UAV can still fly.
      3) A plastic bag will pose no issues for these props - they will cut right through.
      4) These will have auto-descent for when signal is lost, battery is low or whatever so that they don't just 'fall out of the sky'.

      That said, GPS is horribly inaccurate with height, and I'd also be worried with things like clipping

  • by Arancaytar ( 966377 ) <> on Tuesday October 15, 2013 @06:28AM (#45130381) Homepage

    Because if there is one thing the age of digital communication has brought us, it is the ability to carry paper through the air.

    Admittedly this is pretty cool, but so are zeppelins. Doesn't make it useful.

    • It'd be great to be able to sit in the park and order a drink or a slice of pizza from a nearby shop, to have it deliverd to where-ever you happen to sit in a matter of minutes.

      Books are just one of the many things that can be delivered by these things, and are basically just being used as a proof of concept.

      • That's what America needs. More reasons to sit still.

      • having some of those delivered to me to the park might be nice...however the last thing i would want there is a textbook. especially because i would then have to lug it back home and may not have brought a bag to carry it in.

        unless you can have the drone come back later to pick it back up...

  • i would get a paintball gun and use those drones for target practice
  • It looks like something you would see in one of those ridiculous pictorials from the early 1900s, envisioning the future.
  • Our nanny state won't let this at all. I really doubt it's even legal at the moment, since there have been many laws governing UAV's already.
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Tuesday October 15, 2013 @07:24AM (#45130583) Journal
    Let us use the 3D printing technology to create papyrus rolls. And use an email to a post-office which will print it and deliver it to the customer's home.

    Or we can speak into a smart phone, use an app to convert it to text, send it via SMS, the receiving app will use a synthesizer to read it out aloud. If the receiving phone has stored the profile of your voice, the receiver can actually hear the sender's voice, on a phone, no less! Oh, wait, some already did this. It is called What's App.

  • by ad454 ( 325846 ) on Tuesday October 15, 2013 @07:42AM (#45130629) Journal

    What is to prevent some enterprising individuals from capturing a number of these, and selling them on eBay? Reminds me of Pokemon, "gotta catch them all".

    Each drone would be likely worth hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars, and would be a tempting target for thieves. Even the stripped down electronics are worth it, and one can easily remove any batteries/fuel, or toss them into a metallic mesh box, to shut down or block any tracking signals, before the tracking units are removed in a distant location.

    Military and spy drones always operate at great heights, except for takeoffs and landings at secure locations. In comparison, these delivery drones are required to fly quite low, or even land, in insecure areas, when dropping off packages, in order to avoid injuring the recipients and by-standards. At this point could be easily captured by people on the ground the long nets.

    The only way to avoid this would be to have people following these delivery drones, at which point it becomes easier and cheaper just to let these people simply hand-deliver these packages without any drones.

    • cameras on the drone?

      the drones telemetry data, so they would know the exact time and location it went down. at the very least would make it easier to search for witnesses.

      i expect it would also attempt to phone home when it detects something wrong, in order to make it easier to recover, so you would have to be very careful to block all signals it emits until you pull all the batteries. one mistake and they would know where you are.

    • by qubezz ( 520511 )

      Yup, that's what I was thinking too, every book purchase includes a free drone.

      Australia, droppin' knowledge since 2014

    • Mt first thought is that you don't have to actually land the drone: you could lower the book on a rope and have it set up that the rope can only support very slightly more than the weight of the book. The person gets the book, pulls down to detach the rope and the drone flies off, having never come within 100 m of you. You'd have some clever hitch on the book so that you wouldn't have 100 m of rope falling on you, unless you tried to grab the rope and pull down the drone, then the rope breaks (at a designed

  • months, and I live in the US, the world wide capitol of dumb ideas.

    1) it requires everyone who orders a book to submit to gps tracking
    2) it is for delivering paper books- do people still use those?
    3) the inefficiency is mind-boggling.
    4) it is rife with safety issues

    I could go on but you get the idea...

    • Yeah...there's no way in heck they'd get me to turn on my GPS. Considering that I have a relatively dumb phone, I literally have no reason whatsoever to use GPS other than if I get the sudden urge to be tracked.

      • You can be tracked with a dumb phone, too, by triangulation of your signal at multiple cell sites. It may not be quite as accurate as gps, but it's good enough for most uses.

    • 1. You don't necessarily need to allow tracking other than for the few minutes it takes for the drone to reach you. As the AC also pointed out, you need to submit at least one location for regular delivery.
      2. Yes, I'm not sure why there's any doubt in your mind that people still use paper books. There are stores, like Barnes & Noble who make money primarily by selling paper books to people who want to use them.
      3. How is it inefficient? The alternative is for the person who wants the book to travel to th

  • All books should be pdf's now anyway. This just perpetuates the enormous scam that is the textbook industry. For the prices we are asked to pay, you'd think the books are made of powdered unicorn horn and printed with the blood of wood nymphs. I torrent textbooks for my son and his girlfriend whenever possible. You can call it a 'protest' but it's really my refusal to take part in the scam.
  • It's dangerous, it's expensive, it's impractical, it's technically flawed, it isn't "a better way" it just has a smidge of entertainment value which fades immediately.

    It's stupid.

  • by tgeek ( 941867 ) on Tuesday October 15, 2013 @08:21AM (#45130819)
    " . . . as God is my witness, i thought textbooks could fly . . . "
  • by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Tuesday October 15, 2013 @08:26AM (#45130857)
    "Sheila ... I just shot myself an Enterprise Architecture manual",
    "What 'ya want that for Bob?"
    "Dunno Sheila but the fun's in the huntin'!"
  • for Abo's with boomerangs

  • This sounds like some 1950s, Popular Mechanics approach to the situation. Wouldn't it make more sense for the books to be digital?

    • This sounds like some 1950s, Popular Mechanics approach to the situation. Wouldn't it make more sense for the books to be digital?

      Yeah you're right. Digital books would be much lighter, and easier for the drones to carry. Perhaps money can be saved by using smaller drones!

  • This company is going to be distributing free drones to anyone who cares to grab/knock one out of the air... Sounds like a good business model.

  • ...Dropbear.

  • This has possibilities for the last 100 meters of delivery - from the (soon self-driving) delivery truck to the customer. The truck stops near the destination, and a quadrotor takes the package to the door. The quadrotor only has to have a few minutes of battery life, since it gets recharged each time it returns to the truck. So it can trade power for endurance and carry more.

    Apartment dwellers could have an air-conditioner sized landing pad outside their window for direct delivery.

  • He was a retired navy officer and his kid had invented this ultrasonic gizmo that killed mosquito larvae. The idea was you'd lower it into a mosquito breeding source, push a button, and a massive ping of ultrasound would burst the buoyancy bladder of the larva and it'd sink to the bottom of the water and drown.

    It was very cool tech. He had it set up in a fish tank. He'd put some larvae in the tank, push the button and squeak! They all burst like popcorn. And the device had its applications, particularly

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