Large-scale drone delivery services are still some way off, but engineers are continuing to explore different designs for when such services eventually take off.
Sure, drone delivery may one day take off in a big way, but until advances in technology satisfy those who set the rules for flight safety, that day is still a ways off.
In the meantime, a number of tech firms have been developing wheel-based robots for deliveries to your door, with Domino’s just last week announcing plans to use such a machine for pizza delivery.
But little has been said about how a robot like this would see off a ne’er-do-well who might try to kidnap it for a free meal after spotting it trundling along the street. After all, we all remember what happened to poor ol’ HitchBot when he was out and about by himself.
In an apparent effort to combine the speed and security of aerial drones with the convenience of a true doorstep delivery service, California-based Advanced Tactics (AT) has announced that it recently completed the successful test of the Panther, a rugged-looking contraption that’s both a drone and an autonomous robot that can move along the ground. Besides taking packages right to your door, the system also offers the deliverer more options as it can land close to the customer’s yard if it happens to be inaccessible because of trees or other obstacles.
“It’s believed this is the first successful test of its kind,” AT said in a release, adding that the Panther “can land with a 5-pound package and safely drive up to the door with no propellers turning to deliver a package to the doorstep of a customer.” The mention of “no propellers turning” is a reference to the Panther’s safety features. After all, a paying customer would be pretty put out if they accidentally got their fingers sliced off when they went to grab their delivery. And anyway, the company is planning to house those propellers inside cages, providing extra reassurance in case anyone is close by when it takes off.
AT said that “the combination of Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) flight with off-road driving capabilities in a package delivery drone make the Panther … unlike anything else previously seen.” The hexacopter can lift packages weighing up to 15 pounds and can be fitted with not only cameras but also a robotic arm to lift the consignment onto a doorstep, or straight into a waiting customer’s hand. There’s even talk of adding a video screen so the recipient can interact with delivery personnel back at base if desired.
But the Panther’s versatility comes at a price, with its hefty 44-pound weight limiting its flight time to no more than 10 minutes.
The Panther, which has been in development for several years (check out last year’s demo video above), recently went on sale in the U.S. with a $2,500 price tag that’s good until April 5, after which hobbyists will have to pay a wallet-busting $8,000. But if any delivery firms are interested in the Panther, they may have a long wait putting it into service as current FAA rules prevent drones from being used as commercial delivery vehicles.
However, the wait for friendlier regulations at least gives AT time to develop and refine its technology to create a more affordable, more powerful machine that offers a new take on the idea of drone-based deliveries.