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There's a New World Record for Drone Deliveries

Records are meant to be broken, right?

May 11, 2017

A group of commercial drone operators and academic researchers says it set a new long-distance record of a successful urban delivery by drone.

On May 5, the Nevada UAS Consortium flew a drone more than 97 miles — it launched from Austin, Texas, flew outside city limits, and then flew back  — using cellular connectivity. This sets a new record for flying a fixed-wing unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) controlled via cellular networking technology. But the team hopes the record doesn’t stand long.

“This is just one test to collect data and test the technology,” says Chris Walach, director of the Nevada-based FAA UAS test site and adjunct assistant professor, College of Aeronautics at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. “We’re going to keep pushing until we’ve got a fully mature system for controlling unmanned vehicles in the national airspace.”

Though there were visual observers tracking the drone throughout the test, the team claims the drone could have safely delivered its cargo ¬with no visual observers. The team also says this test helps prove that cellular networks provide reliable connectivity for beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) operations.

“I think it’s important to demonstrate the technology is more fully developed,” says Walach. “The more we do this kind of thing, the more the FAA is encouraged to update its policies and procedures, and the more entrepreneurs see how UAV deliveries can become a reality.”

Walach notes that the delivery may not qualify as the longest in the world, but it is certainly the longest delivery controlled entirely using a cellular network. The flight team included the FAA-designated Nevada UAS Test Site (Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems), Volans-i UAS, Latitude UAS, and AUV Flight Services. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University provided members of the ground and mobile visual observer support team.
The HQ-40 fixed-wing drone flew more than 97 miles, which a group of drone pilots and researchers says is a new long-distance record of urban delivery by drone.
Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems
Distance matters

You might recognize this Nevada-based FAA test site, as it helped set the previous drone delivery distance record in the U.S. — a package delivery from Hawthorne, Nevada, to a home in Reno, Nevada, a distance of 39 miles. While the new world record might seem like an arbitrary and meaningless record to some, it is an important milestone in the evolution of drone deliveries.

Making drone deliveries over a long distance is a high priority for delivery companies like UPS, which is testing its own drone technology. Long, rural delivery routes are the most expensive and difficult to maintain with traditional, ground-based deliveries. The longer the drive and the fewer packages a driver delivers, the lower the profit for the delivery companies. And in order for drone delivery to be adopted by logistics companies, it needs to make sense economically.

According to UPS, it costs the company $30 million per year for every additional mile added to a driver’s daily route. “We’re testing [drone] technology for urban and rural deliveries, but it would certainly be extremely beneficial to remote areas,” says Walach.

Despite the success of this drone delivery, it is clear more research like this will be needed to be done before UAVs can fly in the National Airspace System without visual observers. “None of this is easy,” says Walach. “But when we take the lessons learned and start to merge ground-based and air-based sense-and-avoid technology, tests like this will help make BVLOS a reality."
Featured image: Pixabay/