The world’s fastest commercial delivery drone takes to the skies.
Developers of a new drone claim it will be able to make up to 500 deliveries a day at a zippy 128 km/h. Its 10m wing span and multiple motors will reportedly enable the Zipline drone to fly further than the more traditional quad-copter design.
The California-based start-up behind the new drone is currently operating a commercial service delivering blood and other life-saving medical supplies to remote areas of Rwanda. It’s in stark contrast to how drones were originally conceived as target practice to train military personnel.
The commercial drone market is set to exceed USD 17 billion by 2024, according to a report by Global Market Insights. The authors note that the integration of artificial intelligence and advanced machine learning algorithms has developed several new opportunities for the utilization of UAVs.
Meanwhile, advances in high density batteries and GPS systems allow drones to travel longer distances autonomously. In addition, Zipline’s new drone has multiple motors, meaning that if one malfunctions, it can continue to fly.
Currently there are relatively few safety standards that are specific to drones. However, a number of IEC technical committees (TCs) and their subcommittees (SCs) prepare International Standards that cover most of their components, including batteries, MEMS and other sensors.
Among the most relevant, IEC TC 47: Semiconductors, issues IEC 62969 which deals with the general requirements of power interfaces for automotive vehicle sensors. Subcommittee (SC) 47F: Micro electromechanical systems, is responsible for compiling a wide range of International Standards for semiconductor devices used in sensors and MEMS essential to the safe operation of drone flights, including accelerometers, altimeters, magnetometers (compasses), gyroscopes and pressure sensors.
IEC TC 100: Audio, video and multimedia systems and equipment, publishes Standards that relate to digital cameras.
ISO/IEC Joint Technical Committee (JTC) 1: Information technology includes several subcommittees which deal with some of the key technologies involved. For instance, ISO/IEC JTC1/SC 38 deals with cloud computing, while ISO/IEC JTC1/SC 27 is looking at the thorny issues of data protection and cyber security.
ISO/IEC JTC1/SC 42, which was set up in 2017, is dedicated to artificial intelligence.
IEC TC 2: Rotating machinery, prepares International Standards covering specifications for rotating electrical machines and TC 91: Electronics assembly technology, is responsible for standards on electronic assembly technologies including components.
IEC SC 21A: Secondary cells and batteries containing alkaline or other non-acid electrolytes, compiles International Standards for batteries used in mobile applications, as well as for large-capacity lithium cells and batteries.
Ensuring safety and security
The growing use of commercial drones of all sizes is raising issues pertaining to physical safety, the risk of injuring people or causing damage to property.
Challenges such as weather which can interfere with the GPS, flight path and motors, or hackers who could gain control remotely for criminal and terrorist purposes using malware, have spurred the rapid development of technologies to enhance in-flight safety, avoid collisions and improve communication between drones.
There is still a way to go before the skies will be filled with commercial drones. While most people would agree that safety and security should come first, these aspects together with government regulations in some markets, are seen as holding back market growth.
In the meantime, the makers of the new Zipline drone have announced plans to expand their blood and medical supplies deliveries to cover hard-to-reach areas of Tanzania.