A drone for last-centimeter delivery

September 12, 2017 by Sandy Evangelista, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne
A drone for last-centimeter delivery
An accurate, self-flying drone. Credit: Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne

A new drone developed at EPFL uses cutting-edge technology to deliver parcels weighing up to 500 grams. The device will never get stuck in traffic, it's programmed to avoid obstacles, and it can reach destinations on steep or uneven terrain. Its protective cage and foldable design mean that it can be carried around in a backpack and used in total safety.

With a drone, things like letters, medicine, first-aid supplies and food can be delivered quickly, cheaply and autonomously without having to worry about traffic, blocked roads or a lack of roads. Some companies will surely come to rely on these drones. And engineers will be called on to develop ever more sophisticated models to keep pace with this new facet of e-commerce.

The drone, which has been designed in EPFL's Laboratory of Intelligent Systems with funding of NCCR Robotics, is equipped with several innovations that make it particularly safe, autonomous and easy to transport.

The unique idea here is that the drone becomes the package that wraps around the cargo before flight, just like a mail package. The foldable carbon-fiber cage protects the drone and the cargo in case of a collision or fall. What's more, the recipient can catch the drone mid-flight without being injured by the propellers, which are located within the structure and have a safety system so that they stop when the cage is opened.

The origami-inspired design means that the frame can be folded and unfolded in a single movement. It can be flattened in just a few seconds, reducing the drone's volume by 92% so that it can easily be slipped inside a backpack.

Credit: Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne

An accurate, self-flying drone

The drone – a multicopter with four propellers – can take off and land vertically, which enhances its accuracy. And it can carry a package weighing up to 500 grams over a distance of 2 kilometers.

The drone contains specially designed self-flying software to program the delivery. A flight plan is created to ensure it avoids obstacles such as trees and buildings. The drone can then be tracked in real time on a tablet or smartphone. And once the package has been delivered, the drone makes its way back on its own. The device also has a safety system to prevent it from being hacked.

"This project is a work in progress - in addition to strengthening its ability to detect and avoid objects, we are exploring possibilities to increase the drone's payload capacity and enhance its autonomy, "says Przemyslaw Kornatowski, who developed the drone. "Throughout the summer, we tested our human-friendly, drone-delivery system on the EPFL campus, delivering items to people over 150 test flights". The will also have a parachute to increase its safety in the event of a breakdown.

Credit: Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne

Credit: Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne
Credit: Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne
Credit: Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne

Explore further: Amazon's talking delivery drone would ask for help if it fell out of the sky

More information: An origami-inspired cargo drone. infoscience.epfl.ch/record/230988

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6 comments

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TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Sep 12, 2017
"The drone contains specially designed self-flying software to program the delivery. A flight plan is created to ensure it avoids obstacles such as trees and buildings. The drone can then be tracked in real time on a tablet or smartphone. And once the package has been delivered, the drone makes its way back on its own. The device also has a safety system to prevent it from being hacked."

-Typical of all new or near-future drones. I don't see how this will be lighter or more aerodynamic than more traditional designs.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Sep 12, 2017
I'm always watching what EFPL does. Their drone and robotics labs have some really fun projects.
If people want to check it out here's a link to their 'Laboratory of Intelligent Systems"
http://lis.epfl.ch/
LochBhein
5 / 5 (1) Sep 12, 2017
Neat. I'm curious to know how it presses the entryphone buzzer and waits for admission to the lobby of the towerblock and then takes the lift to the seventh floor.
tomjones8055
5 / 5 (1) Sep 13, 2017
excellent article on drones.and it is creating a need for the medical sector.I think robots and drones upcoming thing in our life cycle.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Sep 13, 2017
Neat. I'm curious to know how it presses the entryphone buzzer and waits for admission to the lobby of the towerblock and then takes the lift to the seventh floor.

The idea I've seen for other drone delivery system (autonomous pizza bots, ect.) is for the drones to just get to the front door and then call you on your phone, so that you can come down and take charge of your delivery.
dirk_bruere
not rated yet Sep 13, 2017
So, it can carry a hand grenade

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