With the growing demand for an applicable drone delivery system, drone companies are racing to iron out all safety concerns. The main reasons that an across the board drone delivery system has not been established in the United States has to do with the FAA still configuring logistically sound flight path plans and any concerns about what would happen in the event of an accident. The FAA has been working closely with different drone, logistics, and aviation experts to design software and regulations that would pave the way for a drone delivery program. Meanwhile a Reno, NV based drone company, Flirtey, has been awarded a patent that would improve safety conditions of a drone flying in public spaces.
Matt Sweeny, Ahmed Haider and Tom Bass originally founded Flirtey in their home country of Australia in 2013. In 2014 they relocated to Nevada where they promptly began working with the FAA to become an accredited drone delivery company. By July of 2015, they flew the first ever FAA approved drone delivery mission in the US in collaboration with the NASA Langley Research Center. About a year later the drone used in that mission was honored by being placed on display next to the Space Shuttle Discovery and the Wright Flyer at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. Over the course of 2016, Flirtey continued to set several landmark firsts in drone deliveries in the United States. Then, as stated on their website, in July of 2016 they “Conducted the first fully autonomous, FAA-approved drone delivery from a store to a home in partnership with 7-Eleven in the United States.” Around this same time they set up a partnership with Dominoes Pizza to begin making routine pizza deliveries in New Zealand.
Flirtey’s on-demand, last mile drone delivery is time efficient, cost effective, and works. But the question remained of how to make sure catastrophic events don’t happen in the unlikely event of an accident. Flirtey set out to develop a software program that would allow the drone to recognize if there is a flight error and take evasive measures to protect bystanders, property, and the drone itself. In 2106, a very busy year for the company, Flirtey applied to the United States Patent and Trademark Office for a patent on their parachute deployment system for an unmanned aircraft while in flight. In 2018, this patent was granted allowing Flirtey to begin installing the system into their delivery drones.
If a drone starts to malfunction while in flight it could crash and seriously injure someone below, cause tremendous damage to private or public property, and destroy a costly drone. Now, with this new patent, a drone will be able to autonomously sense an operational error and immediately release a parachute for safe landing. As stated in the patent description, “Disclosed is a technique for landing a drone using a parachute. The technique includes a parachute deployment system (PDS) that can deploy a parachute installed in a drone and land the drone safely. The parachute may be deployed automatically, e.g., in response to a variety of failures such as a free fall, or manually from a base unit operated by a remote user. For example, the PDS can determine the failure of the drone based on data obtained from an accelerometer, a gyroscope, a magnetometer and a barometer of the drone and automatically deploy the parachute if any failure is determined. In another example, the remote user can “kill” the drone, that is, cut off the power supply to the drone and deploy the parachute by activating an onboard “kill” switch from the base unit.”
As one of the leading drone delivery companies worldwide, Flirtey already holds 25 other patents for their drones and drone software. One other such patent focuses on how the a delivery drone can protect itself from being tampered with. When making a delivery, the drone lowers it’s parcel to the ground on a tether while remaining at a safe distance in the air. This system is used because it has been found that to have the drone land poses to much of a risk to bystanders and property, is a waste of time, and to exhaustive for the drone’s battery. However, if someone were to pull on the tether while still attached to the drone, either accidentally or intentionally, it could cause the drone to crash. Flirtey designed a system that allows the drone to automatically sense the change in pressure on the tether and disconnect from it. The tether falls to the ground while the drone stays safely airborne.
With all of these measures and patents in place, Flirtey is poised to begin full scale deliveries across the United States. They are just awaiting the green light from the FAA. They already have a partnership with Dominoes Pizza and 7-Eleven, two suppliers that can be found all over the country. But, Flirtey has maintained that they will never fly a drone without complete confidence that they are doing so safely and within all regulation frameworks. As the company proudly states, “Flirtey’s mission is to save lives and improve lifestyles by making delivery instant for everyone.”