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What Will The Future Hold For Drones?

 Delivery by drone: as we know, this is not a subplot in a sci-fi thriller; it is being openly discussed by many companies, Amazon and Google being the largest. Google is specifically offering a time frame for implementation and Amazon is advertising Prime Air with Jeremy Clarkson. Though apps and software will be integral, this is physical technology that will directly interact with the real world and its existing infrastructure. And as it catches on, drone ‘traffic’ will increase quickly. Below are my musings related to the implementation of drone delivery and how mapping will likely be needed.

 Will drones be allowed to fly over private property?

The legal topic of private airspace will get much more attention. Regardless of whether drones are allowed to fly over private property, the question of an altitude ceiling and floor will need to be defined; one obvious example is the identification of the right height to avoid the drones’ interaction with private and commercial flights. Perhaps it will be decided that they must fly at a prescribed level, let’s say 65 meters, or around 200 feet. Then there is weather, and the question of when to ground operations. This will all need to be determined.

How will the drones be operated?

My assumption is they will be autonomous as Amazon’s Prime Air advert shows. Even so they will need to be routed. How about flying over the existing road and/or rail network, or a city river, e.g. the Thames in London.

This would simplify automated routing and it would avoid many unmapped obstructions, as well as making the mapping of any remaining obstructions, e.g. wires, trees, and street lights, easier to collect as you could focus on the air space directly above that same road network, perhaps using LiDAR. And of course it would avoid private airspace. In addition to routing, geocoding will be a critical factor in ensuring that drone delivery is successful. Delivery locations will need to be geocoded at a high precision–higher than block ranges. Premise level addressing will be required at least, and frankly even higher precisions may be needed to get the packages safely into the right hands.

We have all wondered when flying cars would become a reality, Hollywood has guessed on the dates many times over the years; 2019 in Bladerunner, 2015 in Back to the Future II, just to name a few. Well, we may be close now but with the majority of them being autonomous drones. It is a brave new world, one where spatial context will be important to any implementation.

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