Though known for their use in the military and law enforcement, drones are making their way into civilian life as well. As restaurants speed towards automation by using self-ordering kiosks, kitchen assistant robots and even waiter robots, the prospect of food delivery drones is also being discussed.
Drones have an advantage over ground robots in delivery. Ground traffic can be very complicated, and to ensure a robot can reach a customer’s door, researchers need to carefully map vast areas of terrain. The process can be very costly and time consuming, and even after mapping, a lot of effort is still needed to teach a ground robot how to navigate lawns, driveways, porches and stairs. Drones, on the other hand, require significantly less mapping and micro navigational skills.
However, when drones are flying, air traffic is also a concern. While there is less traffic volume in the air, drones need to be careful of birds, electrical wires, and sometimes even low-flying airplanes. When drones are flying low to deliver something to a customer’s door, they also need to avoid pedestrians. These complications are the reasons why most delivery drones are serving less populated rural areas and suburban hospitals right now. Besides, low-air traffic is far less congested than ground traffic because there aren’t many “vehicles” in the air. When commercial drones become common, will there be so many drones in the air that they crash into each other all the time?
This is why developing an air traffic management system for drones is crucial. This management system needs to track every single drone and make sure they are on the optimal routes.
Researchers also need to pay attention to the psychological impact of delivery drones. Drones are not the same as the remote-controlled toy airplanes kids play with. Just think of the size of a take-out box, not to mention a package. Drones need to be big and sturdy enough to carry these things, and a huge drone flying low over the neighbourhood can be intimidating for residents.
It takes a lot of effort for delivery drones to gain customers’ trust, but is it worth the trouble? Think about how fast drones are when they are in the air and how they don’t tire. Drones can be lifesavers when people need urgent deliveries, like medication, at an odd time. Drones also eliminate unnecessary physical contact, critical during COVID-19. It will take a lot of work before the sky can be safely filled with drones, but there’s no doubt this work is worthwhile.