Study suggests drones could quadruple their range – by taking the bus

Study suggests drones could quadruple their range – by taking the bus
The system was computer-modelled for the cities of San Francisco and Washington, DC
The system was computer-modelled for the cities of San Francisco and Washington, DC
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The system was computer-modelled for the cities of San Francisco and Washington, DC
The system was computer-modelled for the cities of San Francisco and Washington, DC

One of the reasons that we're still not seeing delivery drones in common use lies in the fact that they can only fly for about half an hour per battery-charge. According to a new study, though, their range could be extended if they hitched rides on top of buses.

Led by associate professors Mykel Kochenderfer and Marco Pavone, a team at Stanford University started by creating computer models in which drones were making deliveries in North San Francisco and Washington, DC. These models incorporated the existing public bus networks, with up to 200 drones per city delivering as many as 5,000 packages.

Each aircraft started out at a depot, where a package was loaded onto it. If its destination was within battery range of the depot, the drone could fly directly to and from that location. If it was farther, though, the drone flew to a bus stop where it landed on top of a bus that covered much of the distance. Once the bus reached a stop within range of the destination, the drone flew off to it.

Because there was more than one depot in each city, any one drone could either return to its originating depot, or travel on to a different one where another package was waiting for it. With this in mind, the model determined which drones should make which deliveries, and in what order. In all cases, the system was aimed at minimizing the amount of time that each delivery took.

As a result, the longest delivery time in North San Francisco was under an hour, while it was less than two hours in Washington. Additionally, in both cities, the drones were able to quadruple their effective flight range.

"Delivery drones are the future," says Kochenderfer. "By using ground transit judiciously, drones have the potential to provide safe, clean and cost-effective transport."

A somewhat similar system has been proposed by several companies – including Mercedes, HorseFly and Workhorse – in which delivery drones would hitch rides on top of delivery vans.

Source: Stanford University via EurekAlert

This is an absurd, dangerous idea.

Firstly, 'hitching a ride' means the Drone has to have a means of reliably locating, landing, attaching and detaching from the Bus (presumably on the roof) without causing damage to the Bus or any surroundings such as suspended cables etc.

Secondly, no matter the siz/weight of the Drone it still impacts on the Fuel costs of the Bus owner - this may seem 'trivial' to some but think of it as your business and your fuel costs etc.

As a bus Operator there are also clear legal issues here regarding damage etc. If a Drone has landed on the roof of a vehicle (bus, Truck, Van etc) then the Height restrictions applying to the vehicle may indeed be violated. If the Dirver is not aware that a Drone has landed and attached to the roof then they have no way of knowing if they are going to cause potential damage to cabling, constructions during its journey.

If the vehicle travels under a height restriction that causes damage ot the Drone then the Drone Owner is likely to try and sue the Driver/vehicle owner. I for one would NEVER allow a Drone to 'piggyback' on my vehicle for this and many other reasons.

Most importantly, no body (Driver, vehicle owner, passengers etc) have any idea WHAT any Drone is carrying. It could be transferring Drugs, contraband etc that the Delivery firm is not aware of.

Worse of all - Terrorists could use this 'mechanism' to land a 'false drone (packed with explosives) onto the roof of a vehicle.

I for one would NEVER feel safe on hearing a Drone attach or be flying anywhere near a vehicle I was driving or a passenger in.

It is absurd, dangerous and naive to think that this proposed 'mechanism' is worth the risks to owners, passengers etc.
Chris Hepworth
It doesn’t take a genius to see how effective this could be. A COLLABORATION between delivery companies and bus services, and simple tech would allow the SYSTEM to know when the drones are in place on a vehicle.
I look forward to a future where every part of the world is working together, instead of in tension.

Seeing autonomous ‘carts’ in Milton Keynes(UK) is just the stepping stone
@IanL - A drone landing on a bus without causing damage is not much of a technical challenge nowadays.

This was a model to see if it could work. Obviously a business wouldn't start landing on buses illegally or without permission as part of a successful business model. If this pans out, I am quite sure it would follow a contract that stipulated payment to the bus company or municipal department, insurance, it would consider height restrictions, etc.

Commercial airlines already carry packages on passenger flights all the time. Having a delivery drone land on a bus would be at no more of a terrorism risk than the parcels that already get transported in planes.
Maybe an old technology should be resurrected: Underground freight networks. They used to be common in the 19th century in major cites,and were weatherproof,low energy and efficient. Your online order could arrive in your basement in a few days,no need for UPS trucks! https://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2008/02/a-world-without.html
Now that's what I call thinking outside the bus.
Greyhound and Amtrak have been used to carry packages since forever, so maybe we could skip the drones this time around.
Doug Lough
IanL, all of your concerns are legitimate, but in today’s technical age, I’m pretty sure they have thought all of this out. A drone won’t be able to land without electronic approval from the bus. I don’t see a terrorist letting the bus deliver it’s package when they can do it themselves out the back of a van. My opposition to the drones would be.....do we really need all that going on in our neighborhood every day and night? I can see the advantage to the medical industry, and auto parts couriers. But really, how fast do we need our stuff ?
?? What if there's a kind of recharging set up for flying drones which everyone overlooked? There is this group called 'The Land Art Generator Initiative', which incorporates clean electricity generating systems in city or urban zones, usually amazing windmill artworks, that look BEAUTIFUL, so that they can provide free, clean electricity to the city. The trouble is, if you install small windmills on or in tall city structures, inducing powerline utility towers, to make additional electrical power, it will require a MASSIVE rewiring of city electrical grids, to take that small voltage generated by these LAGI devices for local use, nobody wants to purchase them. BUT, it could be technically possible to set up these LAGI free electric power items to recharge Elan Musk type batteries, and set up a radio guidance system with the flying drones, so that they could plug into these devices to keep recharging along long routes, and because flying drones could greatly stimulate our many nations economies in this post-pandemic world, perhaps it's time to start installing these LAGI systems everywhere!