Waiting is always anxious. Whether shopping on Taobao or placing an order for takeout, I always keep track of the logistics information. Every dynamic change of an order is a tranquilizer for a capable person to temporarily calm down.
Once the order is being delivered, this anxiety will reach its peak. The mobile phone cannot be left more than three feet away, and every call and text message cannot be missed. At this time, I can't wait for the delivery brother to fly to me immediately.
"Fly to your side", is it really possible?
In the past few days, Alphabet, the parent company of Google, stated that their "Brother Express" has successfully flown 100,000 times.
The first drone express to achieve the achievement of “100,000''
Since the birth of small drones, people have given a lot of imagination, aerial photography, stunt performances, remote surveys… People want to use this quadcopter to dig out more aviation value. Among them, "delivery" should be everyone's opinion. The final fantasy of man and machine.
I believe that friends who have seen Harry Potter have such a longing: wake up one day, a snow-white owl is standing by your window, knocking your glass with its paws, and there is a wax seal in its mouth. The cowhide letter to inform you that you have been admitted to a vocational and technical school.
Maybe you will never wait for Hedwig to arrive in your life, but don't be discouraged. This kind of self-cruising, point-to-point delivery service can be achieved without the help of magic, but it is not an owl that landed on your roof, but a drone.
Drone delivery is not a new concept. As early as 2013, e-commerce giant Amazon proposed Prime Air's drone delivery plan.
There are Amazon, Google, UPS, and JD.com, SF Express, Meituan, etc., you will find that well-known technology and logistics companies have released corresponding drone delivery solutions.
▲ Amazon concept video
However, after so many years, our sky is still quiet. We, who are already standing in the future, have not been able to wait for a flying car or a flying courier. The most popular concept of drone delivery is Just like a flash in the pan.
Just when everyone was about to forget this beautiful fantasy, Alphabet announced that its drone delivery company Wing would break the 100,000 orders milestone. Only then did people discover that there is a different sky in another corner of the world.
Wing mainly operates drone delivery services in three countries: the United States, Australia and Finland. Among them, Logan in Australia has achieved the greatest success-out of a total of 100,000 orders, more than 50,000 were in Logan City delivery.
Logan City is not a well-known big city. Its urban area is 958 square kilometers and its population is about 300,000. It is a typical Australian suburban city.
However, the sky over the peaceful suburbs is not calm. Since Wing released the first drone here in 2019, there have been drones flying over Logan City hundreds of times every day, most of which are dealing with citizens. "Needs of the mouth and stomach."
According to Wing's statistics, last year, Wing's drones transported 10,000 cups of coffee, 1,700 packets of snacks and 1,200 roast chickens in Logan City.
The average delivery time for these orders is about 10 minutes, and the fastest order is 2 minutes and 47 seconds, which is faster than the drive to McDonald’s to pick up meals.
It’s not difficult to explain the popularity of Wing in Logan City: In suburban cities with a large area and sparsely populated areas, drone delivery is almost the most convenient and fastest way to shop. All you have to do is place orders and wait leisurely at home. .
Of course, Wing is not capable of delivering everything. When a user needs to purchase something, he needs to download Wing's official app first, and then select products on it.
The app only provides some lightweight goods like coffee, snacks, sushi, cakes, pet food and sportswear. Since Wing's capacity is only about 2.7Kg, you can't expect it to bring you a refrigerator.
Why among so many drone delivery concepts, only Wing can really land? This starts with Wing's mode of operation.
The core of drone delivery: safety, safety or safety
▲ The speed can reach 110 Km/h
Wing’s UAV looks very distinctive. It looks like a hybrid of a glider and a helicopter. There are not only 6 hovering rotors on the left and right sides of the fuselage, but also designed wings and 2 cruise rotors. The aircraft can not only lift and hover vertically, but also cruise smoothly in lateral flight.
In order to minimize the harm to people caused by the accidental fall of the drone, the body of Wing is wrapped with foam material and is very light.
Wing said that the design of the entire aircraft was completed by the cooperation of institutions including Virginia Tech, and that the safety of the aircraft was tested during the design process.
During the flight, Wing will generally control the flight in a low-altitude area 30-40 meters above the ground, and will comply with urban airspace management, and will basically not affect manned aircraft.
Ensuring the safety of landing will be one of the biggest difficulties for drone delivery. Generally speaking, drones need to use sensors to find an open and safe place to land smoothly, but the ground conditions are too complicated and they want to be safe. Landing is an engineering problem.
▲ No cat was hurt at the scene
Because the area where drones are dispatched is usually residential, no one can guarantee that no curious babies or puppies will rush out to touch the high-speed rotating wings even if the landing point is chosen to be empty.
Wing found a very clever solution-using ropes instead of lifting the fuselage.
They designed a device to shrink the rope under the fuselage. During the flight, the rope will be as tight as possible to ensure that the cargo will not be lost. When it reaches the delivery place, the drone will descend to a low altitude 7 meters above the ground and hover. Lower the rope and drop the cargo.
When the cargo touches the ground, it will separate from the special hook, and then the drone will tighten the rope and prepare for its return journey.
During the entire receiving process, the user will not come into contact with the drone. As long as you watch the rope rise and fall quietly from the side, the two keep a safe enough distance, which not only avoids the potential safety hazards of the aircraft rise and fall, but also delivers higher efficiency.
To solve the delivery problem, Wing also needs to solve another thorny problem: how to safely and automatically deliver the goods to the user's designated location?
We all know that the straight line between two points is the shortest, so air freight can be transported on a straight line that is more efficient than land transport.
However, contrary to common sense, in most cases, UAV delivery will not simply fly in a straight line, because air traffic without route planning is very scary. This is like someone driving a bumper car in the air, and it may be two days. The planes will collide together, with disastrous consequences.
In other words, "cars" alone are not enough. People also need to plan "roads" in the air and the corresponding traffic order so that drones can safely fly in the sky.
Backed by Google Maps, Wing has a natural advantage in this regard, and soon established an Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM, unmanned traffic management) system to coordinate and manage aircraft in the air.
Before each take-off, Wing drones will automatically plan a safe pickup and delivery route with the support of the UTM system, taking into account factors such as weather, obstacles, and airspace control, and then set off to the pickup location.
After the order is completed, the Wing drone will automatically return and land on the charging board for charging. During this process, other orders will be executed by another drone. The scheduling method is like a small airport.
How far are we from drone express?
Wing’s spokesperson Jonathan Buss mentioned in an interview with The Verge that Wing wanted to replicate its successful model in Logan to other cities with similar population densities as Logan, such as New Orleans, Manchester, and Florence. Wait.
Interestingly, densely populated cities such as New York and Tokyo are not within Wing's consideration.
Jonathan Bass explained that big cities with lots of land are not friendly to drone delivery because it is difficult for drones to find an open location without branches, telephone poles and signs to drop goods.
UAV express delivery is essentially a way to solve the "last mile of express delivery". Its successful landing is not only affected by technology and policies, but also closely related to the city's logistics system.
Compared with small cities with empty buildings, it is indeed difficult for drones to shuttle and rest in the concrete forests of large cities, which has stricter requirements on the safety and fault tolerance of drone delivery.
Unmanned logistics companies can indeed set up some centralized points in cities to centrally put goods, but after some operations, the cost of unmanned delivery is not much cheaper than the labor cost at the end of urban express delivery, or even more expensive.
Drones are more like birds belonging to nature. It is difficult to find a "habitat" in a big city with tall buildings.
A report issued by Virginia Tech mentioned that when a city's drone delivery system is put into use for five years, each consumer can save an average of 56 hours of shopping time per year, and retail industry participants can increase an average of 208,000 per year. U.S. dollars in sales, and the city can reduce an average of 113,900 tons of carbon dioxide per year.
Time-saving, income-increasing, and environmental protection. These positive benefits have attracted many logistics companies to participate in this wave of technological upgrading. However, the technical and regulatory issues encountered during the operation are like a sap, depending on drone technology. Wake up to the only future companies in logistics.
For example, Wired once reported that Amazon's Prime Air team had layoffs at the beginning of this year. Compared with the first successful test flight five years ago, Prime Air has had little momentum in recent years. A large part of the reason is that Amazon's engineers have not yet been able to do so. Solving the problem of aerial management and safe delivery of drones has led to an overly long project cycle that did not bring expected returns.
At present, UAV delivery still has various limitations. Cities lacking low-altitude management regulations are not ready to meet it, and it is difficult to feed it in suburbs with landing conditions.
UAV delivery is the same as autonomous driving. It stands at the apex of technology that the whole industry looks forward to, but the ladder to the top has only just begun. The milestone of 100,000 orders may be just a small step up this ladder.
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