Hi all again,
Following my first blog post on DIYDrones few people have asked what Pigeon Post is and why I'm posting here.
The Pigeon Post project is developing a system of technologies and standards to drag the snail mail and package delivery industry into the 21st Century. It hopes to meet the following aims:
- Mail packages from the customer not a post box.
- Deliver to a person not a building or post code.
- Delivery time is set specifically or dictated by urgency and distance not First and Second Class.
- Price is flexible depending on demand and supply.
- Uses the existing untapped delivery capacity of public and private vehicles for medium and long distance deliveries.
- Cut the costs of delivering in rural areas where costs are presently the highest.
The strategy we are exploring at the moment is to use Quadcopters and internet protocol style packet switching concepts to move packages from customer to customer.
The project is slow launching this week as I'll be pitching the idea at Manchester Social Media Cafe and to The Next Web next week. I'm looking for feedback at the moment, though not just "The technology isn't ready yet" as I've already answered that one over on the blog. If you have any suggestions or questions about possible problems, solutions to those problems, or nice things to say in general, please comment here or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow what's happening on twitter as well.
If you would like to join the project I'm looking for people who can volunteer some knowledge, time and expertise on autonomous quadcopters and 3D prototyping. I'm also looking for someone with a couple of spare copters laying around to make concept video showing how the system would/could work once it's up and running. I'm going to bootstrap the project for a while until I have a comprehensive enough proposal and some video or animations before raising funding to accelerate the research stage.
Here is an interesting link from the British police force:
"I hope you aren't so pessimistic that you believe the problems you've listed will never be solved." :Nathan Rae
Logical analysis and evaluation of a situation and safety concerns can hardly be called 'pessimistic', rather it is a level headed look at potential problems based on experience, that said most technical problems can usually be solved. (in my years I have seen some grade A1 F** ups, some critical life endangering situations but most instigated by well intentioned sales teams or technically dodgy business plans)
'Laugh test', it would be highly unwise to draw up any business plans ,before safety or a proper analysis had been performed, a single technical hitch can throw even the most detailed business plan off the rails.
The Hindenburg would be a good example,
If your business plan is reliant on Galileo read this http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-15372540
10 years behind and may be fully functional by 2020. Take your time!
Once you have a business plan identifying the constraints of your intended market, you can start building physics models to see what range, weight, BoM, etc will satisfy your goals. Until the physics agree with the business model, there's little engineering to be done.
Then again, if I only spent money on profitable projects, I would be a lot more wealthy, and a lot more boring.
-Possible quadcopter alternative
"Back in my day we delivered mail by sail plane... downhill... BOTH WAYS!"
I think a cheap flying wing with no props, motors, or battery would address the safety factors nicely. A significant portion of mail is still the size and weight of a letter. The USPS standardized size with the "priority mail" boxes. Adding standardized weight makes this technically easier.
Bike couriers are currently in the business you're looking to automate. Even with no propulsion, a flying wing + control surfaces + servos + GPS/Galileo + microcontroller + IMU/Computer vision = vehicle cost. The sum total of components is going to determine your expenses (and your market base is going to be inversely proportional to the cost of the service).
Other limiting factors will include:
Only customers who can afford to lose their delivery or willing to have it found by someone other than the recipient will use a vehicle which is unreliable.
Things working in your favor are
-Existing market needing automation(Pizza delivery?)
-Low non-recoverable expenses(gas, food, housing, etc)
-Desire for anonymity(demand, but will increase the difficulty of achieving recognition of legitimacy)
-Time(the time until the component costs fall below the threshold into profitable is likely to be short)
You are selling water by the river and for me your business plan can be no more than justifying providing an alternative delivery system to something between a bicycle or motorcycle courier and a van. Your typical payload would only represent a very small percentage of the market - much of which may be high value and which as a UAS user I would prefer to give to a human.
Galileo will probably not be on line for public use for another 15 to 20 years.
Excellent Hardcore! That's exactly the type of feedback I'm looking for.
I hope you aren't so pessimistic that you believe the problems you've listed will never be solved. With the pace the research is progressing I can't see any of them to be insurmountable in the next 5 to 10 years which is how long the Pigeon Project will last.
About the laugh test? I'm not sure what you mean. I don't know why thinking about future business models is any more laughable than thinking about future technologies and how they might change the world. Yes there are safety standards that need to be met before anyone could become a service provider in any business, but to leave all business planning until all the technical problems have been delt with is a bit short sighted in my opinion.
I think you are going to fail the 'laugh test', rather than worknig on Business plans there needs to be a frank discussion on safety protocols.
Specifically there is not enough research available on the following:
1. Barometer realignment when flying through weather systems.
2. massive ESD discharges(lightning storms) and their impact on the drones, do they cause component burn out, CPU resetting, ESC resetting?
Have any users even attempted this research?
3. Flying through rain/ Showers and the impact on the motors (they are directly air cooled)
4. Flying through particulates, dust/dust storms/ smoke.
5. Automated landing protocols, incase of worsening weather conditions.
6. Critical failure & decent protocols, you do not need 10kg of mass dropping out of the air in an uncontrolled way.
And this is even before we consider the systems being used to smuggle goods over boarder areas, or network protocols.
I've come up with an all weather (almost) environmentally sound method. Communication capable often only to a basic standard. Charging stations are already located in many spots. With slight modifications it can operate day or night.
Its able to carry several kilos of mail, thus lowering the number of return trips to the depot, or office, in fact as its post we shall call it the post office.
Fully compliant with airlaw, CAP722 etc etc. No special training or licence required in fact.
You have to think of this one like its on Dragons Den and just how many seconds they would give the plan.
Perhaps an aircraft able to carry 10kg of post across to an island might be a plan, but even then I am sure boats would be frequently back and forth with heavy stuff and people anyway. If the weather was too bad for boats you sure would not want to flying a UAS.
Mail is struggling because of email, parcels and packages are expanding because of ebay.
I'm sorry if I sound harsh and others please chip in and prove me wrong, but regulation and reliability will be a huge factor. Overcoming those factors will cost far more than putting 500 men and woman on bikes and organising them well.
I live and breath UAS but always try and find a simple solution to a project.
Mike, short but correct...
The problems in this project (and others..) are more on the physical and legal side. Standards and business plans are not of real use if you don´t know how your system wil look and work from the physical side (and there are many!! unknown points to solve... if its possible/paying off at all).
Ok, there is money for ideas like this added with some "artist views"...
Thats why I would propose a research project in a controlled environement. Start in one of the known "vicon rooms", Automatic charging, landing on mobile platforms, grabbing and delivering... everything already demonstrated seperately. Then go outside, also controled and make a big demo. Then you get an idea of the complexity and problems of the project and then you should start think about "reality"... Could be in some years when the "horse" is ready this way...