Lately, the subject of drone mail delivery has been at the center of attention in the UAV field. At the moment, retail and delivery giants such as; Amazon, Google, Alibaba, DHL and Walmart are currently testing solutions in order to one day be able to deliver mail or packages directly to their customers using drones. However, before being able to receive UAV express delivery from online retailers, UAV designers will have many challenges to overcome. Current technology limitations as well as the lack of concrete data on UAV reliability are the major problems for the future of UAV delivery systems.
First of all, in order to be able to autonomously navigate the airspace, the UAV will need to be able to sense and avoid traffic and obstacles. To overcome this problem, systems such as the TCAS or ADS-B currently in use in traditional aviation, will need to be adapted to the UAV world. The function of these systems is to communicate the altitude, attitude and other relevant information to close by aircraft in order to avoid collisions. For the UAV’s it is not only a problem of miniaturisation and energy, it is also an implementation issue. In order to have an efficient system, we need to have a majority of aircraft equipped with these sense and avoid devices. Yet another problem is the fact that TCAS and ADS-B do not detect obstacles such as the ground, electrical wires, buildings, birds and any other living being. This means that they will need to be equipped with proximity detection devices in order to detect collision risks. Furthermore, another critical issue is that even equipped with all the detectors possible, the UAV will need to be able to interpret the results and execute evasive manoeuvres on its own. Only when a UAV will be able to detect anything from a fast moving plane or a dog walking, and do evasive manoeuvres on its own that we will be able to consider drone mail delivery as viable.
Another big issue with drone delivery is reliability. Since UAV technology is very recent and advancing at an incredible pace, there are no reliable statistics concerning UAV reliability. This is why at the moment, all tests for drone delivery are conducted in low population density areas. In order to be able to fly in built-up areas, the UAV will need redundant systems to prevent failures and will also need to have a way to prevent signal interference and piracy. Transport Canada and other agencies will need more proof that it is safe and that the risks are managed before allowing UAV’s with cargo to fly above cities.
In conclusion, there are a lot of challenges to overcome before we experience drone mail delivery. Even if the technology is evolving at an exponential rate, the number of variables to consider is still not manageable. However, would it be realistic to consider creating exclusive restricted airspace with predefined pickup locations for UAV delivery?
Only time will tell.
 Google X project: http://www.gizmag.com/google-x-project-wing/33588/
 Flirtey Project : http://www.gizmag.com/flirtey-drones-deliver-medicine-in-us-first/38102/