Technology research company Cambridge Consultants has unveiled a drone delivery concept called DelivAir that delivers a package directly into someone’s hands, using coded patterns sent via a phone’s LED flash to identify the recipient. The company says this type of delivery is ideal for items that are needed instantly or critically like a first aid kit to a hiker, emergency relief packages to disaster areas, or for delivering medical supplies like an EpiPen.
Delivering a package is a two-stage process: first, the DelivAir drone uses GPS to locate a person via their smartphone. Then, it switches to optical tracking and a 3D-imaging and ranging system to locate and authenticate the person receiving the package when they come into view. Once the drone reaches the delivery area, the recipient points their mobile phone’s flash at the drone, which blinks the coded pattern. The drone hovers at a safe distance above the flashing LED, verifies the code, then lowers the package down on a stabilizing winch. The drone then returns to base.
“This system is as about as close as we’ll get to instantaneous matter transportation in our lifetimes,” said Henry Fletcher, a senior engineer with Cambridge Consultants. “Pinpoint-accurate delivery to any smartphone may improve the feasibility of life saving applications for drones.”
In response to questions put forward by The Verge, a spokeswoman for the company said that everything shown in the video — from the point of placing an order on the smart phone to returning the drone to base is automated. “The system can technically carry out everything we’ve shown in the video, but there is a current legislative restriction in the UK where a drone may not fly over built up areas and must remain 50m from people at all times,” she said. “Because of that restriction, the delivery shown to a person in town has been mocked up, but delivery to a hand in a rural area is today viable.”
The concept is certainly compelling despite these restrictions and it’s a glimpse of at least one possible future for package delivery.
Update October 4th, 9:26AM ET: Added more comments from Cambridge Consultants.