Drone Delivery Makes Small Progress, Yet Big Challenges Remain

Drone Rescue Systems announced it has met the specifications for sUAS parachute standards, enabling drone delivery capabilities. Image: Drone Rescue Systems

July 18, 2019      

Despite some drone company failures in recent years and slow movement on the regulatory front, companies continue to make progress within the commercial and industrial drone space. A new report from global market advisory firm ABI Research remains somewhat optimistic on commercial drone usage, predicting $101 billion in revenues created annually by 2030 across commercial, military, civil, and consumer sectors.

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Drone Rescue Systems recently tested its parachute systems along with Lidar USA and Flytrex. Image: Drone Rescue Systems

As an example of progress within the drone delivery space, Austrian company Drone Rescue Systems announced it has met the ASTM F3322-18 standard, which covers small unmanned aircraft systems parachutes. The company said its DRS-M600 parachute system, developed for the DJI M600 and M600pro, successfully completed flight tests at the UAS test site in Rome, N.Y., in collaboration with Northeast UAAS Airspace Integration Research.

Drone Rescue Systems said its solution “was to be certified for a project in the U.S. in which the transportation and delivery of food to approximately 1,500 households in North Carolina, was to be made possible and safe.” The ASTM standard tests were conducted in collaboration with Flytrex, which is one of the pioneers of drone parcel delivery. In addition, the company partnered with Lidar USA, which develops laser scanning, photogrammetry and geomatics.

Drone Rescue Systems said compliance with the F3322-18 standard would be necessary for the FAA to permit beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flights and flights over crowds.

“In addition to structural requirements, documentation and dimensioning, the standard also defines 45 test flight scenarios which must be successfully completed with the parachute. These include combinations of releasing when hovering and in full forward flight, with the minimum and maximum take-off weight, automatic and manual release as well as a shock load test. Here the drone is brought into free fall for 3 seconds and only then is the parachute released. All test flights must be documented with videos.”

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Drone Rescue Systems’ parachute can be reused by attaching and detaching it via a bayonet mechanism. Image: Drone Rescue Systems

The company’s parachute safety system works autonomously and independently from the drone, and ejects the parachute in a fraction of a second, enabling safe commercial and private drone usage, Drone Rescue Systems said. The 430g system works without pyrotechnics, and can be reused by attaching and detaching it via a bayonet mechanism.

“We are the first European company and the third company worldwide to meet this standard,” said Markus Manninger, CTO of Drone Rescue Systems. “As a result, our system for UAVs up to 15.5 kg, such as the DJI M600 has been approved. Previous tests were only conducted with UAS up to 4.2 kg; therefore, we are the first to be able to offer a certified parachute safety solution for the higher weight class. Meeting the standard for our weight class is much more difficult, and we are incredibly proud of having achieved that.”

The company said its systems can be used in other applications beyond parcel delivery, such as surveying operations. “Other BVLOS applications, such as testing power lines, pipelines, or cable cars, but also the increasingly desired use over crowds, for television recordings in sports stadiums, at concerts, marathons, or demonstrations, are quite conceivable,” said Manninger.

Rian Whitton ABI Research exoskeleton market

Rian Whitton, ABI Research

While progress is being made with drone delivery, the ABI Research report suggests that companies should not expect immediate returns inside five years. “While Amazon thinks it can get a 15-mile drone delivery going within 2019, there are still certificates needed from the FAA, including Part 135, authorization to operate an airline,” said Rian Whitton, senior analyst at ABI Research. “They have so far cleared one regulatory hurdle, however, receiving a certificate of airworthiness from the FAA.”

Whitton said that it’s likely Amazon’s service in 2019 will be delayed, but successful deliveries in the U.S., U.K., Iceland, China, Indonesia, and Africa have proven value to the market. “So much so that drone deliveries are expected to reach global revenues of up to $10 billion by 2030, accounting for 14% of all commercial sUAS revenue.”

Additional challenges include the advancement of an Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) system, including tracking and applying registration numbers to the drones already in the air, the research firm said. Another challenge is the deficiency in effective communication links for long-range BVLOS operations. In addition, a fractured ecosystem of application developers and drone solution providers that provide some UTM solutions are not effectively coordinating with major government institutions, including NASA, to develop comprehensive coverage, ABI Research added.

“We are not likely to see ubiquitous drone delivery, flying taxi services, or a massive consumer market for drones in the way people perhaps through in 2015,” said Whitton. “Instead, the growth in the drone industry will be dependent on providing cost-effective three-dimensional aerial imagery and indices to industries and verticals that previously had no access to it, namely construction, mining, high-value energy assets, and infrastructure.”