Hungry, want food by drone delivery?

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EU is to reform air traffic management (ATM) in order to provide safer and more environmentally friendly operations. In 1999, the Council and the European Parliament created the concept of a single European sky (SES), to bring in those much needed efficiency measures. Whilst there have been some improvements in ATM, we are currently on SES2+ and it is still far from ready. There are ongoing issues with the plan especially with de-fragmenting airspace sectors, reducing delays, reducing the environmental footprint and reducing the cost related service provision. Some main reasons for the continuous delays are: automatisation of air navigation services, optimising cross border cooperation and staff resources.

How does the above situation affect our drone food delivery plan? Will our food arrive warm?

Understanding the concept of urban air mobility operating within a city, might help us identify how quickly drones can be integrated into daily life. It gives a clearer picture of what is needed to air deliver warm food to everyone.

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Drones are unmanned ariel systems (UAS). Recently, UAS have received plenty of extra publicity because of their potential in the delivery of goods by air. Millions of drones, in the near future, could be used to deliver packages, inspect infrastructure, and monitor activities, perhaps drones are going to be available to help in the future of law enforcement, via their VR-controlled capabilities. Are we, the world, really prepared for that? Could this, privacy-invading usage, be implemented whether we wish for it or not? Is it worth considering the implications right now as it’s only 2019 (are we already that close to the future)?

A large majority of European citizens live in an urban environment. European cities increasingly face problems caused by transport and traffic and carbon emissions. The question of how to enhance mobility while at the same time reducing congestion, accidents and pollution is a common challenge to all major cities in Europe. The central focus of a sustainable urban mobility plan is, improving accessibility of urban areas, providing high-quality and sustainable mobility and transport to, through and within the urban area. To understand the full implications of drone delivery we need to consider the plan for the future. Do people want automated, personalized travel? Do they want air delivery on demand? Someone thinks so! Food delivery drones are currently operating, as I write this article, in Reykjavik. It is, important to note, that this service only occurs on good weather days.

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Drones can be utilised recreationally and commercially. They come in all shapes and sizes and depending on their area and purpose of use, they have a number of different names such as Killer, Attack, Spy, Surveillance and Delivery. Special restrictions are applied to their usage and users must follow a few regulations, in order to ensure they do not violate any privacy rules of a country or an individual.

How do we know that drones will not become armed, built with attached guns or explosives, a terrorist’s or an assassin’s dream weapon? There are some drones with weapons capabilities, military have been using these for quite some time already, but actually it’s not all bad news, in Australia they are currently being used to assist in ‘Shark spotting’ and have been successfully employed in assisting emergency rescue attempts (please click on the video link at the bottom of the page for more information).

How will they be monitored or controlled in cities? Major airlines currently operate under an exquisitely and precisely controlled Air Management System and something similar may be implemented for drones. UAS Traffic Management (UTM) could involve 3 separate parties: the user; the service supplier and a Ground Control Centre (GCC). The user would purchase access to a live Flight Management Portal (FMP) where they could record/obtain the latest air restrictions, provided by/for the GCC. Instead of individual user access, this could, perhaps be done also via larger organisations (known as service suppliers).

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Given that the SES was first introduced 20 years ago and has made very little impact to air traffic management, major airspace reform appears on pause, I am curious what further complication UAS will add. I am also curious how drones will change our cities, our future building designs and our infrastructures. I envision scenes from the movie Metropolis (1927), having large imposing structures, surrounded by lots of small flying objects, etc, happening in all capital cities.

Will this become a utopia or a nightmare? Reykjavik, as previously mentioned, has implemented the food delivery service, however this city is a low rise one, this makes drone operations way more manoeuvrable. Operating in high rise cities could present extra difficulty, making it’s use less safe for the citizens, animals and birds, etc.

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What other potential complications must we consider prior to drone use?

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Current city structures are haphazard, most appear 40 years out of date and do not aid the latest urban mobility measures. One must consider what will be the implication of a drone, for example, flying into high voltage electrical wires? Maybe actions like this. will create power cuts for the local residents, hospitals, etc. What will happen if a drone crash-lands onto a person, causing injury or injuries? and will the use of drones in the city, prevent birds and other animals from living inside the city circle altogether?

If UAS flights are successfully implemented in all cities, might we find that the relative ease and speed of drone delivery makes us less inclined to go to the shops? Perhaps, it leads to corner shops becoming further strained in the future. Once the labour costs of drivers, expense of vehicles and unpredictability of traffic are practically erased, can it suddenly become feasible to have your fruit, milk, bread or other goods expressed to you by air?

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Is it worth considering that although you might get a larger choice of goods, you might be getting them from fewer places as smaller shops potentially disappear? Are we stepping further away from human interaction through our increased reliance on technology? Did you realise that some older members of our society only interact, on a daily basis, with their local Butcher, Baker, Grocer, etc? Perhaps their own family spend their day at work or they might not have any family remaining. As it appears that we are all living longer, do these technological advancements bring us closer together or do they segregate our society even further? Are we being driven by emotional connectivity or by the functionality of technology? and is it wise to consider paying for drone food delivery or could it convince more people to stay at home and cook their own food?

Regardless of purpose, recreational or commercial use, certification will be required prior to any successful implementation of drone service. The relevant aviation authority will, if they haven’t already done do, introduce a certification process to allow piloting the drones for business or work use, with the introduction of ‘Drone Pilot Schools’ across Europe and the rest of the world. Major companies using air delivery will have to consider how they monitor and control airspace.

It remains to be seen whether or not this particular delivery system will be economical. Considering drone failures, potential compensation for injury, high insurance costs, equipment maintenance, loss of item en route to customer, theft and the requirement to conmtinually observe the airspace, this is by no means an exhaustive list but it is already enough to question whether air delivery will be a viable option.

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What’s next? Just as we get used to the notion of UAS, others already move towards a world of autonomous flying taxis, flying cars previously presented as special effects in films like, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968). Fast forward to Bladerunner (2049) and some companies in Europe hope to have their flying taxis operational by 2025, others are currently working on complete autonomous city air transportation services, such as Dubai.