Unmanned Aerial Vehicle

It is 2030 (or may be 2035), you look up in the sky to see a steady traffic of drones on their way to make deliveries for merchandise, groceries, piping hot food or refilling dispensing machines or even carrying patients to hospitals.   While this might sound today right out of a next George Lucas film, it is a very real possibility with drone technology making progress by leaps and bounds every day. However, to realize that, some very interesting technology problems need to be solved (Perhaps some farsighted startups in Silicon Valley or in Bangalore are already working on them). Here’s a small list of probable scenarios:

Traffic management of drones: With thousands of drones flying over the city, technology would need to evolve for effective aerial traffic management.

  • Solutions: A collision avoidance system with latest sensors, sonar and machine vision technology.
  • An equivalent of Air Traffic Control (ATC) system for drones. While satellites could be used for triangulation of position, it may be an expensive option for a 2-way communication. There is a possibility of evolution of technologies like Google’s project loon or perhaps another set of “control” drones flying at a higher altitude – much analogous to management plane for software defined networking

Energy management: Today drones seem to be mostly powered by batteries. But as the payload weight increases along with the distance that drones must fly on a single charge, weight of the batteries will become a limiting factor. There may come an inflexion point of weight beyond which drones would not be a suitable option unless

  • Drones are powered by solar energy with a secondary battery source much like today’s hybrid cars
  • Charging stations where drones are able to auto charge themselves without any human intervention

Security: Cyber threats are pervasive and hence building a robust security layer is critical. All data communication between a drone and all the entities it communicates to like traffic controller, other drones, IOT devices and customer mobile phones (refer point d) need to be secure. While this problem is not very different from securing other IT infrastructure, what makes it interesting is the number of unknown devices it would directly exchange data with and the small data payload it receives or transmits.

Customer Identity management:  Some of the logistics companies exploring drones as a delivery mechanism have suggested leaving the goods in front of the house.  While this may work for low value goods, a clear identity of the customer will be mandatory for procuring high value goods. This could be achieved using mobile devices (Communication of Mobile device with drone using Bluetooth technology) or with some multifactor authentication.

Learning drones: While all of the above points address operational parameters, an important aspect is that the drones would face the end customer. Enterprise would not want to miss out on this opportunity -to unitize this non-intimidating face time to learn more about customer. The data collected can be used for better profiling the customer and hence upselling products and services.

Only time would tell whether drones would evolve beyond today’s phase of initial enthusiasm. However if they do, it is sure to disrupt the logistics and distribution industry.  A convergence of innovation, reliable engineering and regulation can alone make it happen. Cheers to interesting times ahead!