The role of location data in Canada’s commercial drone delivery initiatives

With the commercial drone market poised to take off in the near future, drone delivery ecosystem is moving at a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ pace right now. Retail executives are virtually armoring themselves with unmanned aerial technology patents because they are well aware of the role drone deliveries are going to play in the future of retail.

Since July 2018, Walmart has filed as many as 97 drone technology patents with the World Intellectual Property Organization, as per a report by Business Insider.   And while Amazon’s 54 drone patent requests last year pale in comparison, the e-commerce giant has been much more public – and vocal – about its drone delivery program.

Earlier this month at its re:MARS Conference (Machine Learning, Automation, Robotics and Space), Amazon unveiled the near-final design of its delivery drone. The company detailed how the drone could fly up to 15 miles and deliver packages weighing 5 pounds or less in under 30 minutes. Amazon is convinced it can start making deliveries via drones for customers in the United States within months. Yes, months!

Closer to home, this month has been pretty eventful for the drone industry in Canada too. On June 1, Canada’s new rules for the use of aerial systems also went into effect. Accordingly, all drone operators in the country are now required to obtain an official license for flying unmanned aerial vehicles – irrespective of whether they are doing it for fun, work, or research.

Industry insiders are applauding the new regulations because a safe and predictable regulatory environment is both a prerequisite and a stepping stone for large-scale Beyond Visual Line-of-Site (BVLOS) initiatives or drone deliveries.

The country’s flagship airline, Air Canada, announced on June 4 that it was getting into the business of delivering cargo by drones by tying up with Drone Delivery Canada (DDC) – one of the four companies that Transport Canada has approved for BVLOS operations.

Tim Strauss, Vice President of Cargo at Air Canada, explained the move by saying that the airline is convinced drone technology has the potential to offer the cargo community cost-effective solutions to complex issues related to supply chain distribution in non-traditional markets, including remote communities in Canada.

That the country has dozens of remote communities is indeed one of the biggest reasons why commercial drone deliveries make so much sense for Canada. DDC has already started delivering consumer products to three remote areas in Canada, and within the next five years, it plans to scale that number up to 200.

In this scaling of safe drone delivery operations, one crucial component that cannot be overlooked is accurate location data. From understanding drone guidelines and earmarking no-fly zones to preparing effective flight plans, authoritative geospatial data plays an indispensable role in ensuring safe and profitable drone operations.

Preparing flight plans:

With a georeferenced map, which shows obstacles based on GIS (geographic information systems) technologies, operators can manage path planning for drone navigation with utmost precision.

Ensuring address reliability:

When it comes to drone deliveries, operators require an address database which is complete, dependable, and up-to-date. There are already concerns about the theft of drone-delivered packages if they are left unattended outside a customer’s home, so imagine the implications if the package was to be delivered at a wrong location altogether! Having access to a nationally-sourced, verified address database with rooftop-level precision goes a long way to ensuring these kinds of fiascos do not happen.

Safeguarding serviceable areas:

If the dataset in use has incomplete addresses, there is a very real possibility that even serviceable areas will show up as unserviceable. This can lead to significant economic losses for both retailers and drone delivery agents alike. All care must be taken to use only the most comprehensive individual address points, complete with associated street names, national rail networks, points of interest, parks data files, as well as detailed topographic and geographic features.

Special flight permissions: There will be instances when an organization may request for permission to operate a drone outside the rules of advanced (commercial) operations. For example, a special certificate is required if the payload is above 25kgs or if the operator wants to fly the drone at an advertised event. In such cases, before they can approve or disapprove the request, local governments and municipalities will need access to several layers of data:

  • Topographic information including water, rail, parks, land use and enhanced points of interest
  • Utility infrastructure for collision threat
  • Police and fire stations in case of emergencies
  • Population density
  • Provincial and municipal boundaries, etc.

Here, a location data visualization platform can act as a single source of truth and provide the authorities with a clear picture of whether the request is reasonable or not.

To sum up, the future of commercial drone delivery in Canada is closer than most people realize. With the help of up-to-date spatial data as well as expert advice on its integration in existing IT systems, companies, governments, and municipalities alike can prepare themselves for the exciting times ahead. Consult with Canada’s location intelligence market leader DMTI Spatial today.  Click here to contact us 

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