Friday, August 12, 2022

From Jumbos To Mini-Drones- Logistics To Take A Full Aerial Route

By Vijay Grover

Bengaluru once again demonstrated the future of things to come. Be it Information Technology, Biotech, Defence technology, aerospace science or aviation the city has always been a pioneer. November 2021 was Bengaluru’s turn to display the future of Logistics. 

If what was showcased, the drone-tech will see the metropolitan cities see hundreds of drones flying from one end of the city to other to deliver essentials. 

In mid-November an ‘Octacopter’ drone of CSIR-NAL delivered 50 vials of Covid vaccines to a primary health centre in Karnataka’s Haragadde. The vaccines were delivered along with syringes in a special container from Chandapura Public Health Centre to Haragadde, a remote hamlet off Bengaluru.

CSIR-NAL’s Octacopter took off from the Chandapura PHC carrying Covid-19 vaccines and delivered to Haragadde in just 10 minutes. Flying at an altitude of 300 metres above ground level (AGL) at a speed of 10 meters/second and covered an aerial distance of 7 km in about 10 minutes. The entire mission covered a distance of about 14 km in 20 minutes, including delivery of vaccines compared to the normal 3- hour trip for the personnel on a daily basis. 

NAL is confident that the Octacopter can be used for a variety of Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) applications for last-mile delivery, like medicines, vaccines, food, postal packets, human organs, etc. 

Meanwhile just a few kilometers away from the NAL, Indianapolis based DRONEDEK Corporation, one of the first companies in the world to patent a smart mailbox signed an agreement with another Public Sector Undertaking the Bharat Electronics Limited. The technology designed for secure drone delivery systems will help BEL to design, develop and produce DRONEDEK smart mailbox units for worldwide distribution. 

DRONEDEK holds a first-position patent portfolio for its smart mailbox for drone package receiving and storage. A feature-rich, secure mailbox accepts delivery via robotic, unmanned driverless, aerial drone or conventional means. DRONEDEK is set to disrupt all shipping verticals to include receiving or sending food, medicine, groceries, or other parcels.

“DRONEDEK must work with the reliability and redundancy of a 747 airliner with 300 people on it,” said Dan O’Toole, DRONEDEK CEO and Founder. “This new collaboration between BEL and DRONEDEK gives us the edge and credibility we have been looking for in the marketplace.”

The Drone Logistics Ecosystem is fast emerging as a consortium of Logistics companies who look to using Drones extensively for the last mile connectivity. NAL is looking at being in the forefront of giving UAVs to several private operators in the city.

NAL has already tied up with private firms for drone manufacturing and offering operational services. The UAV is made out of lightweight carbon fiber foldable structure for ease of transportation and has unique features like autonomous guidance through dual redundant MEMS based digital Autopilot with advanced flight instrumentation systems, the NAL said.

 The Ministry of Civil Aviation has granted conditional permission to CSIR-NAL for conducting BVLOS flight trials. The Octacopter can carry a payload of 15 kg with hovering endurance of 40 minutes. It can fly at an operational altitude of 500 m AGL and at maximum flying speed of 36 kmph. “Its regulatory compliance includes DGCA-NPNT, Geo fencing and digital sky with 360-degree Collision avoidance making it one of the best UAV in its class. 

NAL expressed confidence in its capability in the trial and collaboration with Karnataka Health department for drone delivery of vaccines. Dr P V Satyanaraya Murthy, Head of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle division, at CSIR-NAL congratulated his team and said the Octacopter was the need of the hour for delivery of vaccines in the remote areas. “NAL Octacopter is perfectly designed for such a mission which is easy to operate by unskilled operators.

On the other hand, the DRONEDEK tie up gives Bharat Electronics Limited the first off, the block advantage, as it can get into production right away. 

“We are always raising the bar on our technical offerings, and we want to continue to be a company of firsts,” said Mrs Anandi Ramalingam, Chairman & Managing Director, BEL. “The DRONEDEK opportunity presents BEL a new vertical in the changing landscape of worldwide, last-mile logistics, one in which we will be able to put a stake in the ground and build on.”

Designed to accept drone delivery, the DRONEDEK mailbox also accepts traditional mail delivery, and is destined to become an everyday utility service like power or water. The device is capable of keeping packages hot or cold; will alert users to package arrival; recharge drones; and even serve as an emergency alert if necessary. An app controls when the device is opened for delivery or retrieval and controls its emergency alarm features.

So even as traffic jams of Bengaluru continue to become dense by the day, the city adapting to the UAV revolution could change the logistics scenario within a short span of time. 

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