Airbus launches commercial drone service Airbus Aerial

airbus aerial launch of commercial drone services

Airbus has launched a commercial drone service, Airbus Aerial, which will bring together small drone technology, high-altitude unmanned aircraft, satellite infrastructure and analytics software. 

Few can claim to have more heritage and expertise in the world of aviation than Airbus. The company is now set to expand its airborne reach by combining the latest in aerial technology for commercial customers in the US and Europe.

Agriculture, construction and conservation

With the ability to bring together the full spectrum of drone technology, software and satellite imaging, Airbus Aerial is in a strong position to offer imagery services to commercial clients. The data captured from aerial solutions could be used for mapping and modelling in agriculture, construction and conservation.

Thermal and multispectral imaging can give farmers accurate information on crop health, for example, while advanced software can create 3D models to assist with planning and progress tracking during building works and mining projects.

Equally, satellite imaging and high-altitude systems can monitor changes to landscapes that occur over time, as conservation efforts work to combat deforestation and identify climate-related changes to the environment.

Read more: Airbus and Italdesign unveil modular smart city transport

A step towards logistics services

Airbus Defence and Space CEO Dirk Hoke hinted that Airbus Aerial will eventually move from data services into logistics.

“Through Airbus Aerial, we are uniquely positioned and fully committed to advancing the commercial Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) industry. It is bringing together partners from across the industry – ranging from vehicle manufacturers, data analytics companies, service providers and others – to enable data-focused services at large scale,” he said.

“Using an integrated combination of assets, from UAS platforms to satellite imagery, Airbus Aerial is rolling out a wide range of new imagery services. In the future, additional pillars of the Airbus Aerial activities will be in the area of cargo drone services as well as providing connectivity via aerial assets.”

Read more: Airbus: engineering the future of intelligent factories

Drones are a piece of the puzzle

Although the hardware market is on the rise, companies bringing together applications with analytics software stand to benefit most from the rise of drone technology.

According to a 2016 report from Gartner, over three million drones will be produced in 2017, up 39 percent on 2016.

Airbus Aerial will have offices in the US and Europe. The US branch will be headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia and led by Jesse Kallman.

“Drones are only a piece of a much larger picture for us,” said Kallman. “Airbus Aerial brings together a variety of aerospace technologies, including drones and satellites, combines them in a common software infrastructure, and applies industry-specific analytics to deliver tailored solutions to our customers’ biggest challenges.”

Read more: Airbus leveraging IoT and IBM’s Watson for connected aircraft

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IBM patents drone for aerial pass-the-parcel

IBM patents drone for aerial pass the parcel

IBM has been granted a patent for mid-air package transfer technology that could be applied to extend the range of drone deliveries.

Technology giant IBM has announced that it’s been granted a patent for a system that would transfer packages between drones during flight. US patent number 9,561,852, titled ‘In flight transfer of packages between aerial drones’, could expand drone delivery networks and allow packages to travel further.

“Drones have the potential to change the way businesses operate and by leveraging machine learning, drones could change e-commerce,” said Sarbajit Rakshit, IBM’s master inventor and co-inventor on the patent.

“Our inventor team is focused on improving how the most valuable cargo is delivered globally. This could create opportunities such as managing drones to deliver postal packages and medicine in developing countries via the most direct route.”

Read more: Amazon Prime Air exploring drone delivery by parachute

Overcoming delivery challenges

In theory, this kind of aerial pass the parcel could solve a number of problems holding back drone delivery.

The first and most obvious challenge addressed is range. Once the technology to safely transfer packages between two separate drones during flight has been perfected, multiple drones can form a relay of sorts to lengthen the potential distance packages can travel.

This kind of development would mean that less infrastructure is needed on the ground and make supply chains easier to set up and extend.

Read more: MoD looking at delivery drones to resupply front-line troops

Specialized drones avoid interference

The second problem that could be solved by IBM’s patent is that of ‘the last 50 feet’, a phrase denoting the final moments of a drone delivery. The point at which the package is delivered represents a minute or so when there is the most risk to the drone, and to pets and people on the ground, as well as to the safety of a package.

Potential interference is always going to be a danger, especially when a drone is flying low as it nears its destination.

IBM’s patent could open the door to a new type of delivery drone: one that is only responsible for the final moments of delivery, that is more secure and better equipped to handle interference than a standard drone. With IBM’s technology, this second type of drone could collect the package in mid-air and be specifically designed to work with whatever infrastructure is on the ground.

By pioneering in-flight package transfer, IBM could enable more variety across any drone delivery network, with different drones specialized for different tasks instead of looking for a one-size-fits-all solution.

Read more: Matternet leapfrogs Amazon to complete first city drone delivery

IBM has several patents related to drone technology, but this is the company’s first major move toward using drones as part of its logistics offering. IBM currently manages supply chains for clients around the world with its Watson Supply Chain.

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