Robots can do practically anything these days, but one of the main focuses in robotics is the ability to deliver packages. There is much to look forward to with robot deliveries, including easing the burden on delivery people who have to risk their lives and work crazy hours during the coronavirus pandemic to keep deliveries moving and on schedule. On this episode of Robots Everywhere, we take a look into where we are now and where we are headed when it comes to full deployment of robotic delivery systems.
The biggest promise, of course, is an entire fleet of delivery drones deployed in our skies, autonomously whizzing to and fro, ferrying packages and passengers from point A to point B. Companies like Amazon and Google are just a few of those leading the charge of the industry. Amazon Prime Air is a vertical takeoff and landing drone that looks like an IKEA bed frame that can fly. The Google Wing drone looks like a dumpy floatplane with pontoons glued directly to the wings, and is capable of lowering packages down with a retractable claw. Other companies like UPS, DHL, and FedEx are all developing their own version of delivery drones.
So if the technology is already there, why aren’t delivery robots everywhere already? There are a couple of reasons, the first being logistics. Currently, we don’t have a good drone traffic control system, and the Federal Aviation Administration has been working for years to develop a system to figure out how to keep hundreds of drones from crashing into each other — as well as from crashing into buildings or passenger planes. Until a system can be safely developed and deployed, large-scale drone delivery won’t be taking off. Secondly, drones are still less energy efficient than traditional delivery systems like vehicles and even trains. Because drones have to constantly fight against the pull of gravity, it takes more energy to keep them in the air than to move something along the ground. And barring some major technological leap in efficiency, that’s not going to be changing soon.
However, robot delivery doesn’t just mean airborne drones. Ground-based robots, from six-wheeled machines that look like coolers to autonomous bipedal robots that bring packages from a truck to your doorstep, are changing the way deliveries are made. And when you think about it, right now a significant portion of our delivery system is already handled by robots, from shipping warehouses to planes that run on autopilot. Autonomous cars aren’t far down the road, which will also be utilized for deliveries. So while a sky full of drones doesn’t look to be on the horizon quite yet, the advancement of robotics in our supply and delivery chains will continue to bring us closer to that future.
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