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Skyward is a venture-backed tech start-up involved in building the digital airspace infrastructure around commercial drones. Just as for vehicles on land and large commercial planes in the air, there have to be "rules of the road" that users must follow, says Evans. "Basically, Skyward is writing a bunch of software coding those rules into a context that aero-robots can understand."
In doing so, the company is working with regulators, insurers and commercial operators. "There is a whole ecosystem of stakeholders involved in building this new transportation network in the sky and we work with them all," he says.
The potential use of drones in the supply chain came to public attention when Amazon announced more than a year ago that it was researching the feasibility of using aero-robots for same-day deliveries in urban areas. While many considered this a marketing stunt, Evans notes that it is a serious and mature R&D project. “I can tell you that from an engineering perspective, it already is possible to deliver goods under five pounds, which is 86 percent of Amazon’s inventory, within a 30-minute radius,” he says. “The real question is whether it pencils out. It probably doesn’t now, but costs are coming down rapidly and drone capabilities are going up. Determining practical uses for this technology and bringing it to scale will be the next iteration.”
Evans believes there will be a number of practical supply-chain uses beyond small-package deliveries, including inside large warehouses. “Robots can be self-orienting, so they could fly around a warehouse and do all kinds of inspections,” he says. “They could be mounted with multiple kinds of sensors, or perhaps someone may put an eye scanner on a drone and fly it up six stories to scan a barcode. I am an evangelist for the technology, not a user, but I am sure there are many potential applications.”
Regulations to govern drones are being slowly developed, but for now applications for use may be granted by the FAA on a case by case basis. “Just over 100 applications have now been approved from major corporations like Amazon, State Farm Insurance and others,” says Evans. “A lot of big names are coming into this space.”
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