One of China’s largest eCommerce business, JD.com, is at it again. In the next three years the company plans to open 150 drone launch facilities in China’s southwestern Sichuan province in an effort to create a local drone delivery network. Sichuan’s mountainous terrain has for centuries made travel and delivery a difficulty to isolated rural communities, now drones can change that.
Drone Dossier has reported on JD’s work before. Since June of 2016 they have been making live drone deliveries in four test areas throughout China. They are also working directly with Chinese authorities to set up a drone traffic management systems in the areas they operate.
JD has a variety of drones to deliver packages with the largest supposedly able to lift upwards of 50 kg and they are developing ones that can lift around 500 kg! JD’s CEO Richard Liu recently said that drone deliveries would reduce the costs of shipping freight by 70%, compared to conventional truck delivery.
JD is also streamlining the way its uses drones, deciding not to make deliveries to individual address, but instead deliver to one of the thousands of local distribution centers that is has both in cities and in rural areas.
The video below shows JD’s concept. In it a man orders diapers online from a local village. The order then goes to the nearest drone-capable distribution center which packs up the diapers and sends them to the local village via an autonomous drone. Notice that the JD drone in this video is a tri-rotor drone and it appears (3:34) that the box has hooks that latch unto the drones chassis itself to secure the package during transit. The drone drops the package off at another smaller JD distribution center where a local employee picks it up and literally walks it over a few houses to the guy who order the diapers online.
The folks over at PC Magazine have put together a list of their top 11 drone crashes (which they call disasters…jeez guys calm down!). There list has some of our favorites including the guy who flew into the Seattle Space Needle and the video shown below of a guy who made the maxim effort to save his drone from a watery death after a battery failure!
A lot of these are crashes are the result of pilot error or stupidity, but some do show legitimate dangers when drones fail and crash because of battery failures or naturally caused reasons like birds and weather.
If you want to see more crashes check out the video below. Our favorites are at minute mark 2:28 when a bird takes out a drone, minute mark 4:51 when a pumpkin fired out of a cannon hits a drone and the scary moment at minute mark 10:06 when a terrible pilot crashes a drone through a window unto someone’s desk!
Remember to be smart and safe when you fly!
Forget observing construction projects, workers in China are now using drones to assist in building massive bridges.
In China’s Sichuan Province workers are currently building the Xingkang Bridge that when completed will be nearly a mile long and hang over 600 feet above the raging Dadu River. The southwestern province is famous for its river gorge valleys that impede travel.
The first step in creating these massive suspension bridges is to run a pilot cable across the expanse the bridge will traverse and then use this pilot cable to rig up larger and larger cables. Usually a helicopter or boat would be used to run a pilot cable. But this time a drone is being used.
In December, Chinese engineers used a large 6-rotor drone to carry the pilot cable to the other side of the bridge structure. The engineers claim this method is over 100 times more efficient and 80% less costly than traditional methods—not to mention safer. This is also not the first time China has used drones in this manner to help construct bridges.
Such innovative uses of drones show their ability to make things more efficient and cheaper—which when you think about it, are the two keys in making a technology stick. It will be interesting to see what other ways drones can aid construction project.
World famous camera company Canon is making the jump into the drone world! Last September the Japanese camera maker partnered with Prodrone Co. to produce a drone that will be branded under the Canon name and be equipped with Canon cameras.
This week Canon started to show off their new PD6E2000-AW-CJ1 drone (please change the name Canon, please!) on their Japanese website. The drone is supposedly designed for search and rescue operations and is equipped with Canon’s high-end ME20F-SH camera.
There is no official announcement on when the drone will be available for sale, but the rumors suggest that when it does it will be in the $20,000-$40,000 price range…ouch!
Canon is the latest camera maker that is taking a stab at drones and they better hope they learn from the mistakes of companies like GoPro. According to reports, Canon hopes to sell $4.5 million worth of drones by 2020.
Insurance companies across the nation are looking into using drones to assess insurance claims. One area where the benefit of drones is immediately obvious is in inspecting property and rooftops for damage after a major storm.
Before drones a claims inspector would have to climb a ladder unto a potentially dangerous roof to assess damage. It was an arduous process that could take hours. Now drones can perform the same task in as little as 20 minutes without putting a claims inspector in any danger.
This week, Farmers Insurance was testing the use of drones to assess hail damage on selected houses in the Denton, Texas area. According to Farmers Insurance spokesman Chris Pilcic, “We’ve been engaged in numerous test flights in a number of states to better understand how UAS [unmanned aircraft systems] technology might serve as an additional tool to our claim teams. So far we are pleased with the progression of our research and development.”
Farmers Insurance has been looking into using drones for a while, but this test in Denton marks the first time that have put that plan into action. The Insurance Council of Texas is following such testing and their spokesman Mark Hanna perfectly summed up the impact drones could have on the insurance industry when he said, “For a lot of insurance adjusters, the ladder might soon be a thing of the past.”
A start-up in the San Francisco bay area is aiming to shake up the way cargo is delivered with drones. Natilus, Inc. is building a 30 foot drone cargo plane prototype that they hope to get airborne later this year.
Natilus aims at creating drones as big as 140-feet that are capable of carrying over 200,000 pounds of cargo at half the cost of current jet cargo planes. The sturdy carbon fiber drone is designed to take off from water and also land in water before taxiing to a dock to unload its cargo. This eliminates the need for ground-based infrastructure like large landing strips.
But how the drone really saves money is its ability to fly for longer times at slower speeds than any commercially available jet. Because of factors like pilot fatigue, normal cargo planes travel at higher speeds and in the process burn more fuel, making the trip faster, but also much more expensive. Because the Natilus drones will be autonomous, this is not a concern. The company uses the following cost comparison to get an idea of how this new drone could change the way cargo is transported.
Time and cost of shipping 200,000 pounds of cargo by:
The prototype of the Natilus drone is not yet built, but if this start-up can get things right they have the possibility of changing the way cargo is transported. Natilus plans on flying cargo drones between California and Hawaii by 2019.
The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency or as most know them, DARPA, has changed the face of warfare and technology on numerous occasions. A new book, ‘The Imagineers of War’ by Sharon Weinberger tells the stories behind many such occasions, including a section dedicated to the birth of drones.
The book portrays drones as one of DARPA’s main contributions to modern warfare and traces unmanned aircraft from their beginning as spotter and trackers in Vietnam to an indispensable part of US air power in the 21st century.
Learning about where drones came from is important to understanding how they will continue to shape the future. Most of the technology on commercial and consumer drones today came from direct military applications. Also, drone technologies of the future like sense and avoid abilities and particularly swarming technology, continue to be driven by military or military-funded research.
The future of drones is autonomous flight. While the technology to make autonomous flight a reality is almost there, the willingness of many aviation authorities has not advanced as quickly.
However, authorities are starting to adjust. While the FAA still prohibits beyond-line-of-sight flying (something which is key to autonomous flight), it has granted waivers to companies like PrecisionHawk for such operations. This week two important development also happened overseas.
In Switzerland the American company Matternet successfully delivered laboratory samples between two hospitals via autonomous drones. Matternet was given permission to test autonomous flight by the Swiss Aviation Authority with plans by Swiss authorities to make such deliveries more common place by next year. Matternet’s M2 drone which was used for this test is, “Designed to operate around people and infrastructure within urban, suburban and industrial environments.”
Then in Israel, home-grown Israeli company Airobotics, was authorized by the country’s Civil Aviation Authority to fly drones without a pilot. Airobotic’s fully automated Optimus drone has its own little drone house. It self deploys, self lands and can autonomously do tasks like monitoring a facility, which makes it ideal for industrial applications.
Airobotics Optimus system is already in use and the company is now eyeing moving into helping with traffic analysis and emergency response using autonomous drones.
French start-up Airvada has just developed a drone with inflatable arms that makes it fold up into less than eight inches of space. The drone is only 0.44 pounds which places it under the FAA’s 0.55 pound limit to register the drone. The Diadone drone also has a larger version that is 0.88 pounds and an even larger one at 3.3 pounds—all of them are inflatable. The drone is able to inflate in 20 seconds, thanks to CO2 cartridges and can be deflated and packed away in 60 seconds.
The drone’s inflatable arms allow it to land on water and easily fly in the rain. Even though the drone is light it has a flight time of around 20 minutes. The drone is not yet in the market and no pricing is available.
The question Drone Dossier has is how well will this drone perform in windy conditions? Will it blow away? Will gusts cause its inflated arms to bend and destabilize its flight?
We would also like a chance to see what kind of material the inflatable arms are made out of to see if they can be easily damaged. The Diadon drones are a cool idea and we are going to keep an eye on if Airvada can make them a commercial reality.
A new bill is being considered in Connecticut that would allow police in that state to arm drones with deadly weapons. If passed, Connecticut would be the first state to allow drones to be armed with deadly weapons. (North Dakota has allowed police to use drones armed with “less than lethal” weapons since 2015) This proposed law was picked up by numerous news sources and is getting a lot of attention on social media.
Some are worried that this could be a turning point that starts to fill American skies with armed police drones. Drone Dossier understands that this law could set a important precedent for use of armed drones but it may be too early to accurately know the potential impact of this bill. For example, the bill could fail and set an example for states not to arm drones. Also, the bill does not explain how the drones will be armed, or what kind of drones will be used. Most of the drones that police departments around the country are acquiring are commercially available drones that are not designed to be weaponized.
If passed, it appears Connecticut is planning only a minor role for weaponized drones. State Senator John Kissel said, “Obviously this is for very limited circumstances. We can certainly envision some incident on some campus or someplace where someone is a rogue shooter or someone was kidnapped and you try to blow out a tire.”