Q&A: FocalPoint CEO On What Delivery Drones Can Do Amid COVID-19 Crisis

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In the current international coronavirus pandemic, interest in delivery drones has skyrocketed and FocalPoint is working hard to introduce the technology on a mass scale as soon as possible. It could eliminate the need to visit shops, increasing the potential of quarantine and self-isolation efforts, and could also be used to deliver medical supplies.

What are the obstacles to using drones for delivery?

It’s important to make these platforms light and cheap so they’re not worth stealing and won’t drop out of the sky and cause injury. To do that, we need to run very smart software at low cost, very lightweight sensors, providing high performance in a low-cost platform. Accurate positioning, especially in cities, is computationally expensive and has accuracy issues below rooftop level because of signal bounce.

The theft of drones is an issue. It wouldn’t be difficult to buy a £5 book with a stolen/fake amazon account and steal a £5k drone to strip for parts.

Also, multi-copters are very noisy, so noise pollution could be a problem. There will be a limit to the number of drones that can be overhead at once based on the sheer noise rather than any other economical aspect.

How do we overcome those obstacles?

FocalPoint is concentrating on making the GNSS positioning and guidance work much better, especially in cities. We are improving accuracy, sensitivity, the integrity of positioning. Our patented Supercorrelation technology enables a 10x improvement in GPS accuracy in cities, which would enable the kind of accuracy required to, for example, make drone delivery to balconies or high rises.

Has the coronavirus and self-isolation caused an increased interest in the concept?

It looks like coronavirus and self-isolation has caused a spike of interest in drones. We are seeing the interesting immediate roll-out of robots in China for everything from delivery to disinfecting.

Once the coronavirus situation is over, what other benefits could we expect to see from delivery drones?

The coronavirus situation will probably never be ‘over’ per se. We will likely have to accept some changes in how we live. However, the situation has helped to show where drones can be extremely useful in enabling delivery networks to scale up, but only once the key issues of safety and accuracy have been solved.

Do you think we will see the use of delivery drones on a large scale anywhere in the world soon?

Large-scale use of delivery drones is dependent entirely on the local authorities providing licenses to operate. The technology exists today, but most authorities don’t yet see it as failsafe. This is not easy for an airborne platform since failure can result in an object falling at high speed. For this reason, street-level ground-based robotic deliveries are more likely to occur before airborne ones.

What is FocalPoint and what is it doing to advance this technology?

FocalPoint is concentrating on making the GNSS work much better – improving the accuracy, sensitivity, and integrity of the positioning system. We are working to enable the last meter accuracy for deliveries. This is particularly important when delivering to non-traditional locations, or automating deliveries (rather than having a human collect it). Our technology also enables delivery systems at scale by reducing cost and weight.

Many autonomous navigation systems reduce errors by fusing a large number of sensors together, including cameras and LiDARs. This is expensive, heavy and energy-hungry, acting as a severe limiter on business’s ability to roll out drone delivery at scale. A more elegant solution is fewer sensors, with greatly improved integrity, performance and reliability provided by smarter software, such as our Supercorrelation and S-GPS solution.

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