Uber Eats Drone Delivery Test Touts Urban Environment Flights

Image: Uber Eats

July 30, 2019      

SAN DIEGO – ModalAI, which develops perception and communications systems for autonomous robots and drones, today said it was part of a successful food delivery via drone test recently with Uber Eats. The test flight, conducted on the campus of San Diego State University, was conducted to showcase the ability of drones to deliver items in high-density urban areas.

The drone food delivery test was part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Unmanned Aerial Systems Integration Pilot Program in the San Diego region. In addition to Uber Eats, the IPP includes the City of San Diego and collaboration with 20 regional organizations, including the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation. The San Diego IPP was also involved in working with the Chula Vista Police Department, which uses drones as part of its emergency response operations.

As the drone carried its food, the company’s VOXL lightweight computing platform with 4G cellular connectivity helped keep it safely on the flight path, even when the drone was out of sight from the pilot.

“The success of the Uber Eats drone delivery helps prove that VOXL is a viable platform for mission-critical drone applications,” said Chad Sweet, CEO of ModalAI. “Moreover, it verified that cellular connectivity is a reliable method of supporting Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drone flights.”

The VOXL was able to use 4G connectivity to communicate between the drone and Uber Elevate Cloud Services, a dynamic and proprietary airspace management system that tracks and guides drone flights to take off, fly, and land independently. VOXL provided command and control of the drone, and assisted with autonomous navigation of the aircraft and air traffic monitoring via Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B). ModalAI said it also mapped the progress of the Uber Eats drone so the pilot-in-command could see the drone on a digital map at all times.

“Integrating drones into the national airspace, especially in high-density urban areas, is challenging,” said Dr. Tom Prevot, director of Uber Elevate. “Tall buildings and flight distance mean operating beyond the range of typical remote control, so the integration of ModalAI has been crucial to our efforts.”

ModalAI joined the IPP program in October 2018 in coordination with Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., the company where ModalAI founders Chad Sweet and Donald Hutson first met.

“Qualcomm Technologies provides the cutting-edge technologies that enable connected machines like drones and robots to be smarter and more autonomous,” said Dev Singh, Director of Business Development and Head of Robotics, Drones & Intelligent Machines business at Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. “With our silicon and ModalAI’s VOXL solution, we are proud to help usher in the era of drone deliveries.”

VOXL is compatible with open-source technologies such as Linux, Robot Operating System (ROS) and PX4, creating a flexible software architecture for a broad number of applications.