B.C. drone company flies ahead of the pack
VANCOUVER -- Everyone thought Amazon would be first, but a Canadian company has moved into the lead to deliver packages by drone.
InDro Robotics of Salt Spring Island, B.C. is clear for take-off. The Canadian Transportation Agency has given the drone delivery company an air cargo license, which authorizes it to transport parcels via drones up to a distance of 25 kilometres.
“So, it opens the door now for the technical challenge to start pushing the drones to fly farther and farther,” said Philip Reece, CEO of InDro Robotics.
The company’s journey began six years ago, testing the delivery of medical supplies via drone for London Drugs. Now, heavy lift drones will be able to carry up to 20 kilograms. And the company hopes to expand the distance to 200 kilometres by the end of next year.
Amazon was the first to experiment with commercial delivery of packages by drone and received an FAA certification in August, but it's still in the testing phase.
Google Wing got its drone delivery authorization in April and has now taken the American lead with package deliveries in Virginia.
UPS is testing flying medical supplies by drones and South San Francisco-based Zipline is delivering medicine to villages in Africa.
“Although it sounds like bragging, I think we’re ahead of all of them,” said Reece.
The flight path ahead
InDro Robotics has now teamed up with UBC and Canada Post to test drone parcel delivery to automated drop boxes designed by Chicago start-up company Valqari. They are like community mail boxes, using smart technology to communicate with a drone to guide it to a landing pad, automatically dropping the package into an assigned box.
InDro Robotics has also teamed up with Rogers for Business in order to accomplish long-distance, out-of-sight flight control.
“We fly it all over cellular. So, we could have our pilot on Salt Spring and we could have the drone all the way over in Ottawa and still fly it in exactly the same way,” Reece explained.
What about safety?
Drone technology is equipped with artificial intelligence to avoid people and objects on the ground and to avoid crash landings.
If a seaplane can fly, InDro Robotics' team says, so can its drones. They’re designed to fly in winds of up to 18 kilometres per hour. They have a radio system that sends out a verbal, computer-generated voice notification to pilots in their vicinity and they are equipped to land safely if controller contact is lost.
Reece says the company has conducted thousands of hours of testing, simulating various safety scenarios and have had no incidents.
The B.C. drones, built on frames supplied by a Seattle company, are expanding beyond the Gulf Islands. InDro Robotics has opened an office in Ottawa in anticipation of further growth as it moves into all types of commercial package delivery.