First US community receives autonomous drone delivery
April 4, 2016
by Mark Ollig

Soon, we’ll be looking towards the sky during suppertime; anticipating when the pizza delivery drone will arrive.

On a more serious note, I learned unmanned aircraft (UA) commonly called drones, have, and will be used more during humanitarian situations.

These “rescue drones” will deliver food to people in need, and first aid supplies for locations unreachable on the ground during times of natural or man-made disasters.

The venue for the first-time delivery of a package sent via an autonomous airborne drone, using a fully-automated navigational processing system, took place in Hawthorne, which is southeast of Reno, NV.

Hawthorne has a population of around 3,200.

The contents of the delivery package included: bottled water, emergency food, and a first aid kit.

The drone used was a six-rotor, unmanned aircraft.

Flirtey, based in the US, recently accomplished this first successful, fully-autonomous, delivery using Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), and a UA.

This test was made with the approval of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Flirtey is an independent, drone delivery service company.

During this autonomous, computer-controlled delivery, a Flirtey pilot was on standby in the event the drone’s autonomous system failed, and human intervention would be required; however, the standby pilot was not needed, as the drone’s delivery was a complete success.

The drone flew along a pre-determined delivery route; stopped, and then hovered over the exact drop-off point.

It then slowly lowered the package it carried via what looked to be a synthetic rope, attached to a winched line.

Flirtey worked with the Nevada Advanced Autonomous Systems Innovation Center, located at the University of Nevada, Reno.

The University’s engineers, along with personnel from Flirtey, worked together in designing the technology used for an autonomous drone delivery.

Flirtey’s Twitter profile states: “Real-time delivery by flying robots. Anytime. Anywhere.”

I chuckled while reading one of the frequently asked questions on Flirtey’s website: “You guys are kidding, right?”

Flirtey responded, saying the idea of flying delivery drones are not for the future anymore, as the technology now exists for providing real-time services using drones.

They hope to reinvent the delivery process not only for humanitarian needs, but also for the online retail and food delivery industries.

In fact, they boldly said; “Flirteys [drones] in the sky will look as normal as delivery trucks on the road.”

I contacted Molly Livingston, who is a member of Flirtey’s communications team.

She sent me detailed information about the March 25 autonomous drone delivery in Hawthorne.

What’s so amazing for me is the fact this delivery was accomplished without human pilot involvement – from liftoff, to delivery.

The Hawthorne delivery thus demonstrated cutting-edge, autonomous computing systems will permit aerial vehicles (drones) to safely navigate around buildings, and deliver packages to specific locations within a populated area.

Nevada’s Governor Brian Sandoval congratulated Flirtey on “successfully completing the nation’s first fully autonomous urban package delivery.”

“Conducting the first drone delivery in an urban setting is a major achievement, taking us closer to the day that drones make regular deliveries to your front doorstep,” said Matt Sweeny, CEO of Flirtey.

He added; “Drone delivery by Flirtey is set to save lives and change lifestyles.”

Indeed. On July 17, 2015, Flirtey used drone delivery for 24 packages of much-needed medical supplies in Wise, VA.

You can watch the six-minute, drone-cam video of this special delivery at: http://tinyurl.com/Bits-Flirtey1.

In addition to working with the University of Nevada, Reno, Flirtey worked with NASA and Virginia Tech University in developing the technology and logistics systems for a mass-market drone delivery network.

An FAA webpage describes Unmanned Aircraft Systems as; “the unmanned aircraft and all of the associated support equipment, control station, data links, telemetry, communications and navigation equipment, etc., necessary to operate the unmanned aircraft.”

An unmanned aircraft was also defined as being flown “autonomously through use of an on-board computer, communication links and any additional equipment that is necessary for the UA to operate safely,” according to the FAA.

“The FAA’s role is to ensure each operator sets up a safe testing environment, and to provide oversight that guarantees each site operates under strict safety standards,” they stated.

The FAA selected the following sites for unmanned aircraft systems research and testing:

• Nevada: The state of Nevada.

• New York: Griffiss International Airport (includes test ranges in Massachusetts and Michigan).

• Virginia: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (includes test ranges in New Jersey and Maryland).

• Texas: Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi.

• Alaska: University of Alaska Fairbanks (includes test ranges in Hawaii, Oregon, Kansas, and Tennessee).

• North Dakota: North Dakota Department of Commerce.

Flirtey’s historic Hawthorne delivery was filmed for the 30- minute ABC-TV documentary program “Foreign Correspondent,” and will air in mid-April.

You can follow Flirtey via the @Fly_Flirtey Twitter user handle. Their website is: http://flirtey.com.

As always, yours truly can be found at: @bitsandbytes.

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