Will These Delivery Drones Open the Door for More?March 19, 2016 by Tim Youngblood
Domino's is beginning trials for "Domino's Robotic Unit" or DRU, so we thought we'd take a look at some more delivery robots.
Domino's DRU could open the door for autonomous delivery of more than just pizza, so we thought we'd take a look at some delivery robots we might see around soon.
Domino's pizza delivery robot
DRU, an autonomous pizza delivery robot was unveiled by Domino's on Friday, and this time, it isn't an April Fool's Day prank. The pizza delivering robot uses GPS to navigate and has sensors for collision avoidance developed by Marathon, an Australian military contractor. The pizza delivery-bot can drive on both roads and footpaths. DRU can roll all the way up to your doorstep with a pizza, or it could run into pedestrians, making the need for accurate sensors critical. DRU delivered its first pizza on March 8th and nobody was run over, so it seems like they're on the right track. Domino's hasn't released very much information about DRU's internal components, but they did list some cool features.
Based on DRU's features, it must have an impressive battery. DRU has a range of 12 miles and has compartments for up to 10 hot pizzas and cold beverages. It also has a locking mechanism that can be undone with a code so nobody can steal your pizza. If you watch the video below, you'll see that DRU also has some pretty intense lights on it.
New Zealand has offered itself as a testing ground for autonomous delivery vehicles, and they are currently hammering out the details for regulating vehicles that can drive on roads and walkways. Simon Bridges, New Zealand's Transport Minister has been pushing to open the country up for more ventures with experimental vehicles, and the government seems to be on board with his idea. He said this in an interview with PHYS.org:
"This is an exciting opportunity for New Zealand... over the last 12 months I've been actively and aggressively promoting New Zealand as a test bed for new transport technology trials"
New Zealand might become a hot-spot for testing automation in the near future, which could bring in a lot of interesting investment opportunities.
Amazon Prime Air
Domino's isn't the only company promising automated delivery in 30 minutes or less. Amazon took a different approach with their delivery drones, but they have their own issues to deal with, mainly the FAA. They operate at an altitude of 400 feet, which is far below the altitude most manned aircraft fly at. Their latest prototype for the drones seems to work well, they alternate between using vertical propellers for take-off and landing, like a helicopter; and horizontal propellers once in the air to fly like an airplane. When it's time for the drones to land, they use object detection sensors to plot a clear landing. Their trailer made landing look easy, but it will probably be more difficult to land in urban areas unless drone landing-pads become a common occurrence.
The latest prototype of Amazon Prime Air, courtesy of Amazon.com
Starship's sidewalk delivery robot
In an attempt to circumvent the restrictions of the FAA and the Department of Transportation, Starship, a startup from Estonia has designed a robotics platform for local deliveries that runs on sidewalks and other walkways. Their robot bears a lot of similarities to DRU, and Domino's likely drew some inspiration from Starship's platform for their own. Like DRU, Starship's prototype has a "cute" design in order to make people feel more comfortable with the idea of sharing sidewalks with automated machines. With less legal hurdles to deal with than Domino's and Amazon, Starship's prototype may be the first drone we see delivering packages to us.
Airspace, roads, or walkways?
These are the 3 main modes of transport for automated delivery, each has their own set of legal hurdles, even for sidewalks. While each will take some time to pass various safety regulations, it seems inevitable that all 3 versions of these delivery drones will be common. Each has its advantages depending on the geographical location of their delivery target. Road-based automated vehicles will be best for traveling long distances since the air and sidewalk-based drones have a limited range. Sidewalk delivery drones will excel in dense urban environments where road traffic is dense and there's little or no space for landing. Air-based delivery drones will excel in situations where time is crucial. Each format will eventually have a place in our lives; it's a matter of when not if. We always love to hear about new automated delivery services, if there are any other interesting delivery drones that we haven't covered yet, let us know in the comments!