US city to test drone delivery

It is always a good thing when drone technology gets a chance to excel anywhere in the world, especially when it comes to helping disadvantaged communities.

And so it is that delivery drones have been given two years to prove their worth by the city of Arlington in Texas, USA; which has formed a consortium to test the efficiency and scalability of using autonomous, electric delivery vehicles in delivering food and other critical supplies to disadvantaged communities in the area.

The city is keen to reduce its carbon footprint, which is why it has embarked on a pilot project to use more climate friendly delivery means and do away with conventional vehicles that increase greenhouse gas emissions because of the fuel they need to serve the residents in need.

The city asked itself the question: How can food banks get canned goods, pasta, and other critical pantry staples to disadvantaged communities or individuals with mobility challenges without relying on delivery vehicles that idle at the curb during each drop off?

The top answers were drone technology and autonomous ground vehicles. Of course

So; with the help of a $780,182 US Department of Energy grant, the City of Arlington will partner with Tarrant Area Food Bank, the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA), the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG), Dallas-Fort Worth Clean Cities Coalition (hosted at the NCTCOG), Airspace Link, Aerialoop, and Clevon to implement the Multimodal Delivery Project through 2025.

The project’s overall goal is to test and evaluate the use of no-emission or low-emission drones and four-wheeled robots that are smaller than cars to deliver essential food items to individuals who are mobility challenged, historically disadvantaged, or lack a reliable means of transportation.

Since, we are really biased, we are routing for the drones. They have proved their worth since Zipline’s Robin drone delivered blood samples that saved a young girl’s life in Rwanda in 2016. The deployment of delivery drones has expanded across Africa and beyond since then; and also spread from its medical delivery entry point to also include delivery of groceries and other foodstuffs.  

“As transportation technology advances, so does the potential to make positive changes in the way we connect people with goods and services,” said Alicia Winkelblech, the City of Arlington’s transportation director.

“Using electric drones and ground delivery robots to provide ‘last-mile’ delivery services can be a more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional delivery vehicles. As a national leader in innovative transportation solutions, we are honoured to partner with these autonomous delivery vehicle industry experts and other community leaders to research and share whether this technology is a viable way to serve the public while reducing greenhouse gases.”

Trusting the Process

Here is how the project has been designed to work: An estimated 300 boxes of food will be delivered to Tarrant Area Food Bank clients living in East Arlington.

These deliveries will be made by Aerialoop’s ALT6-4 VTOL Delivery Drone, a 6-foot-long battery powered drone that can carry nearly nine pounds, and Clevon’s autonomous delivery robot, the CLEVON 1.

Airspace Link’s unmanned traffic management system, the AirHub Portal, will be used to provide the data and digital infrastructure needed for planning, decision-making, and operations, including detailed ground and air analysis that will help drone operators determine take-off, landing, and delivery routes.

“Airspace Link is thrilled to collaborate with the City of Arlington and our project partners to pioneer cutting-edge delivery solutions and foster industry partnerships,” said Michael Healander, Airspace Link’s Co-Founder and CEO.

“Combining the expertise of a drone management provider, a drone operator, and a ground delivery robot carrier, this partnership represents a ground-breaking approach to low-emission delivery methods. This collaboration will pave the way for future innovative initiatives in the region. “Airspace Link is honoured to have the opportunity to work closely with the Tarrant Area Food Bank to showcase how community-informed planning, routing, and assessment can effectively aid those in need while reducing environmental impact.”

Routes will be developed to avoid flying over residential areas and high-traffic roadways, and onboard sensors will use data only for navigation purposes.

For its part, drone logistics company Aerialoop said it was looking forward to bringing to Arlington the experience it has gained from operating commercial, beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) and autonomous network routes in multiple Latin American countries, according to COO and Co-founder Santiago Barrera.

“With over 14,000 commercial flights and a current average of 1,000 packages delivered per week in our Quito network, we see in this project the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the efficiency and scalability of drones for middle mile logistics,” Barrera said.

During the first year, the project team will conduct community outreach, determine the locations for the deliveries, develop a concept of operations plan, and conduct the first of two short demonstrations. Each demonstration will last between two and four weeks to test drone and autonomous delivery vehicle technology and performance delivering packages to homes.

In the second year of the study, the first demonstration will be analysed, a second demonstration will be conducted, and final analysis, reporting, and sharing of lessons learned will be completed.

The University of Texas at Arlington’s Institute of Urban Studies (IUS) will assist in engaging potential participants and the broader public within the study area to help determine the preferred delivery modalities.

The consortium anticipates the project to be a success if it achieves benefits that include knowledge that would help scale similar delivery services to reduce the number of vehicle miles travelled, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and improve overall efficiencies in delivery and transportation systems.

Lessons learned from this project in Arlington will then be shared widely to help other communities seeking similar benefits.

The City of Arlington was among 45 recipients nationwide selected by the Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office competitive grant program, which provides funding to advance research, development, demonstration, and deployment of projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector.

The total project cost is estimated at $1.6 million, nearly half of which is grant funded, with the remainder coming from contributions from all project partners through in-kind staff time and the use of equipment.


Leave a Comment


Welcome! Login in to your account

Remember me Lost your password?

Lost Password