Amazon is pushing the old pizza delivery slogan of “30 minutes or less” for their flagship drone delivery service. Meanwhile, the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft und Ramfahrt, DLR) is seeking to take that mantra about 5 steps further by having drones deliver packages to you no matter where you are, including to the roof of your car utilizing an attachable drone launching pad.
The DLR has already been testing this launching pad idea using a solar-powered Penguin BE UAV. According to the DLR’s press release, there have been several design changes in the drone that will allow it to travel at greater heights and distances more quickly. “Eliminating the landing gear significantly increases the payload capability of a solar-powered aircraft. This in turn creates more space for scientific instruments.” These drones are said to travel at least 75 kilometers per hour (about 47 miles per hour).
But how can a drone moving at almost 50 mph land safely on the roof of a moving car? One should take into account that ground speed, wind speed and air speed are calculated differently. For example, wind speed has a vector quantity, which means it has both magnitude and direction. However, aircrafts can be affected by cross winds, updrafts and downdrafts, meaning it can be affected by factors from all sides.
The DLR explains that algorithms make the landing process easier: “The major advantage of this system is that the movement of the UAV and the ground vehicle are synchronized in real time using the developed algorithms. With both vehicles moving at the same velocity, the landing resembles a vertical helicopter landing when seen from the ground vehicle. Thereby, the horizontal velocity components are close to zero, making the landing phase simpler and safer. In the experiments performed to date, flight operations safety rules required a driver to be present in the car. The driver received calculated control commands via a graphical display, which instructed faster or slower driving. In the future, in practical applications, a robotic vehicle without a driver could be used.”
While the idea could revolutionize the logistics industry, giving drones the on-demand capabilities that Uber possesses, regulations in the United States still limit how drones can be used and where they can fly. Retail companies such as Amazon are intending to make heavy use of drones in the near future, and logistics companies are also putting drones into their business plans as well. While technical obstacles can be overcome by innovation, overcoming legal obstacles is something that can’t be done as quickly.