Last Mile Drone Delivery: Testing the Limits of Commercial Operations

Two months ago, in early April, a group of dedicated pilots gathered on a vacant college campus to test the boundaries of last mile drone delivery, operating under current Part 107 rules.  Flying hundreds of flights over three days, the pilots worked to test every aspect of commercial package delivery by drone: operational capacities, airspace deconfliction, operator safety, processes, policies, and training, for flights both in daylight and at night.  Here’s what they found.

DroneUp is one of the most successful service providers in the world, offering a vetted, licensed and trained force of pilots across the country.  That made DroneUp a logical partner for  Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) and UPS when they set out to determine – quickly –  how unmanned aerial systems could assist with critical delivery during times of crisis, working under the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) current Part 107 regulations.

DroneUp pilots and other test participants conducted exercises from April 6 through April 9, 2020, on the vacant campus of St. Paul’s College, in Lawrenceville, Virginia. Tom Walker, DroneUp’s CEO, said, “DroneUp’s drone delivery exercise was aimed at learning what is possible to do safely and effectively today while gathering data to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles in the near future.”  The result of the testing was a more than 50 page report on every detail of the delivery process.  The report is available here.  Of all of the report findings, this may be the most critical: last mile drone delivery is a safe, practical, and workable solution – right now.

In a pandemic, drone delivery is already showing value.  “The delivery testing and outcomes prove that drones can be used to safely deliver critical items to a quarantine area. Experienced drone pilots could be quickly dispatched to hot zones to provide real assistance in pandemic response,” said Joe Fuller, DroneUp’s CIO.

The entire report is worth a read: the level of detail is impressive. From the aircraft and camera (the DroneUp team used DJI Inspire aircraft) to flight data analysis, the tests included aspects of last mile drone delivery including training, scheduling operations, payload mechanisms, and communications.  By using a deserted college campus to represent a city environment, the team had the opportunity to test aspects of drone delivery that have been difficult to perform in the U.S. before.

“This exercise proved that Part 107 pilots using commercially available drones could successfully and repeatedly deliver 1.275 pound payload

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