Yes, drones can deliver small parcels, but they are limited by weight, rules, and regulations.
Companies like Amazon’s Prime Air jumped in with the promise of delivering a five-pound package to the destination within half an hour or less. But there are currently regulations in place which require that the operator be able to see the drone first hand throughout the entire flight. This necessary safety requirement was created to prevent collision with power lines, airplanes and other types of property.
But before that, we have to determine if it is even possible within the laws of physics to deliver drone carried packages with the currently available models. Let’s look at some statistics:
First of all, the average time a drone can fly for is around 20 min, but racing drones reach speeds of up to 80mph. So the drones which will be used for delivery will barely even reach speeds of up to 40mph, and the speed will decrease even more when it will be carrying packages. Let’s analyze why the flight time is around a meager 20 minutes:
• Most drones use batteries and electric motors. These batteries typically hold a charge capacity of 60 Wh (watt-hour) for every pound of battery weight.
• The speed power required for hovering is 100W for every 1 pound of overall weight, which includes batteries, drone weight, and payload weight. This all requires about 200 W/lb to climb or fly at a sufficient speed.
• Now, the power system itself which includes the motor and controllers delivers around 1,000 W for every 1 pound of drone weight.
Ultimately, this results in the following:
• For a flight of about half an hour, a drone’s overall weight must be around 20 times that of the package being carried alone and the batteries weight accounts for most of the weight. So for even a five-minute flight, the overall weight has to be only 1.5 times that of the package.
As seen in the first made assumptions, a drone will barely be able to fly more than half an hour and by that time it will be unable to carry any packages whatsoever. Now, when a company makes claims that they will deliver a five pound package to your doorstep in under 30 minutes, then what they really mean is that they will not be able to fly the drone for much more than 15 minutes to the destination and then it will take about 15 minutes to fly back, which includes takeoff as well as landing time, with speeds that don’t exceed more than 40mph, now we have to take all this into consideration with the above fact that the drone will have to weigh at least 20 times more than that of the package. So, delivering a meager 5-pound parcel will require the drone to weigh 100 pounds. But the FAA has put restrictions on the drone size to 55 pounds, which means that considering the restrictions the bottom line is that:
A drone will have to fly within 15 minutes to the customer and then 15 minutes back with just a 2.5 pound package.
There are more issues, namely:
• If the drone flies for 15 minutes at 40 mph, then the warehouse has to be located within 10 miles of the destination. But here comes another problem, the more warehouses you put in to accommodate the drones, simultaneously there need to be massive amounts of energy which will have to be used for heating, cooling and much more. This offsets the energy benefits of air delivery.
• Also, to be fair; it is really hard to imagine an urban scenario where this whole issue doesn’t get messy and fast. A delivery truck can carry hundreds of packages at once and imagining a situation where hundreds of drones would substitute that single truck, spells even more problems- the visual, noise, privacy and safety as well.
• There will also be the issue of how drones belonging to various companies, like for example- Google, Amazon and more would stay out of each other’s space while occupying the same airspace without a confrontation which might lead to potential delays and then to probable lawsuits.
Drones are used for aerial photography and also can be used, theoretically for delivery of packages. The idea of drones delivering packages and parcels seems like a futuristic idea to the general public, but it presents itself as a potentially lucrative idea to business owners on the surface. But going below the glamour of being awestruck by a small flying vehicle, it is scientifically possible for a drone to deliver packages.
The bottom line is that delivering even a 5-pound package to a particular destination will require technology which we currently don’t have. It can be a lucrative mode of delivery, but to make the dreams a reality, better motors and battery capacity improvements will have to be made.