Drone delivery system tethers packages to any customer location

By Luke Geiver | October 10, 2017

Drones in flight aren’t limited by terrain or traffic, so why should they be limited by a zip or postal code? That is the question a team of researchers from Cambridge Consultants is asking. The U.K.-based product development company has created a drone delivery system capable of delivering small packages to precise locations using smartphones and GPS systems.

Through the DelivAir strategy, an individual can order a product through a smartphone app such as flowers, food or medical supplies. The Cambridge Consultant-designed drone—a battery-powered multirotor equipped with a tether cord and storage compartment for holding the products during flight—will then fly to the location of the customer’s smartphone. Upon arriving at the customer’s location, the drone will hover in the air above the person. The customer on the ground will hold out his or her smartphone in order to help the drone above use the smartphone’s lighting system as a reference point from which the drone can lower—via tether—the product requested for delivery into the hands of the customer. Once the drone tether has lowered the package to the height of the customer, the customer must unhitch the box from the tether and take their package. The drone then respools the tether before flying back to its delivery station home base. According to Cambridge, the delivery process starts with GPS. During the flight to the recipient, the drone will request location updates until it arrives within visual range of the client. At that point, the company describes, the drone switches to precision optical tracking and a 3D imaging and ranging system used to locate and authenticate the customer.

Nathan Wrench, head of the industrial and energy business at Cambridge, said the DelivAir concept is exciting because it removes the address restriction that other drone delivery technologies are limited by. “We are taking cloud retail to the next level,” he said, “delivering out of the clouds and into your hand.”

“Ultra-precision is the future of drone delivery, and the opportunities are almost limitless,” Wrench also said. “The mobile phone changed the way we make calls, from a location to an individual. We believe this technology has the potential to re-shape e-commerce in the same way, making deliveries to a person a practical proposition, no matter where they are.”

In addition to its U.K. location, Cambridge has a team of 750 engineers, scientists, mathematicians and designers in Boston and Singapore.

There is no timeline for when the system may be made available or when or where further testing may take place.