Mar 29, 2016 | By Alec

When drones became affordable hobbyist toys, who would’ve imagined that the skies could one day be filled with autonomous delivery drones? Amazon certainly did, and they have been working on their Prime Air program with that purpose in mind for some time now. Like so many other drone initiatives, they are relying on 3D printing to keep costs down. While you might expect ambition from a company such as Amazon, one Australian startup called Flirtey has actually been stealing their thunder by achieving one 3D printed drone delivery success after another. And they have just completed their next test, the first autonomous delivery in an urban area as part of an FAA test.

If you’ve missed them completely, Flirtey is an Australian drone developer currently based in Nevada. Though previously finding delivery successes in Australia and New Zealand, they have been eyeing the US market for some time. That’s why they have been participating in limited tests sanctioned by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Last July, they reached a milestone by successfully delivering a pharmaceutical package during test in rural Virginia. While consisting of a wide range of materials, that drone featured multiple 3D printed components and it is believed that this second test again relied on 3D printing. With a range of more than 10 miles and a tethered line that lowers cargo, these autonomous drones have been looking very promising.

And it was again a pretty impressive test result. The drone flew to an unoccupied house in Hawthorne, Nevada on March 10, guided by a built-in GPS and computer that enables for communication and battery power monitoring. There, it dropped a package that included bottled water, an emergency food supply and a first-aid kit. The package was lowered down on the front porch autonomously, though several visual observers and a drone pilot were on standby to intervene if necessary. Fortunately, the entire thing went off without a hitch.

The company was obviously very proud of the achievement, especially because the test involved navigating around buildings, power lines, and street lights. “Conducting the first drone delivery in an urban setting is a major achievement, taking us closer to the day that drones make regular deliveries to your front doorstep,” Flirtey CEO Matt Sweeny said. The test was successfully completed with the help of various partners, including the Nevada Advanced Autonomous Systems Innovation Center at the University of Nevada at Reno, the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems and NASA.

The contents of the delivery were not chosen randomly either, as they are exactly the type of products that could be autonomously delivered in the near future: food, water and emergency supplies, all necessary for humanitarian relief, online retail and food delivery. The director of the FAA test site in Nevada Chris Walach was also very impressed by the test results. “[They] excelled in all aspects of safe flight operations in the National Airspace System,” he argued. “This was by far one of the most successful UAS operations we ran, and represents an advanced level of test and development of new UAS technology, flight planning, innovation and mission execution by Flirtey.”

It’s also a spectacular result for the FAA, who have been involved in a range of tests on drone activities and behavior. Tests like these, showing a drone’s capacity in a variety of rural and urban areas, will greatly influence their rule-making process. Their updated regulations are expected in the spring, and other drone operators, ranging from hobbyists to Amazon and Walmart, are all expected to benefit from Flirtey’s achievements. Could this signal the way for skies filled with commercial drones?



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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