A2Z Drone Delivery Releases New Version of RDST Longtail: DRONELIFE Interviews Founder and CEO Aaron Zhang
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Los Angeles-based A2Z Drone Delivery began their business with an innovative delivery winch – an idea first conceived at Brown University, when Founder and CEO Aaron Zhang figured out a new way to deliver cookies around campus. The project resulted in a commercially viable mechanism that allows companies like Walmart to gently release packages at their destination without landing, reducing much of the risk and complexity of flight in suburban areas.
Since then, the company has evolved to provide a drone delivery platform including a range of tools and hardware. A2Z’s products include a long-range fixed wing delivery drone, a heavy lift hexacopter, and a series of winches that enable flexible delivery models without specific packaging. A2Z has developed their platform to accomodate payloads of different sizes and shapes, expanding the potential use cases and applications for drone delivery.
Now, as A2Z announces the launch of their 2nd generation heavy lift RDST Longtail drone, DRONELIFE asked Zhang how he envisions drone delivery evolving – and what it will take to see drone delivery scale in the US.
Drone Delivery – and Pick Up
At the Commercial UAV Expo a couple of years ago, A2Z had a fascinating set up in their booth – showcasing their specialized winches that allow for both delivery and pick up. It’s an easy to use, flexible system: and could give drone delivery the same capabilities as ground-based small package delivery.
“While we do offer customers the ability to customize their delivery drones for simple servo release payload delivery, which is where a package is simply dropped from the UAV, we’ve focused our development on delivery from our drone winch because we see it as the safest, and most accurate, approach,” says Zhang. “We’ve also developed interchangeable payload hooks that can auto-release a box without a person having to wait to receive it, as well as a hook for the new RDST Longtail that can deliver and pick up boxes and bags.”
The platform opens new possiblities and use cases for drone delivery. “A customer could deploy the Longtail to make a delivery of spare parts to an offshore energy platform, and then someone on the platform could attach a new payload that would be reeled up, safely secured, and returned to shore,” Zhang explains. “The drone was purpose-built for these types of delivery missions where shippers or logistics operators need to be able to accommodate varying payload boxes or bags.
“Eliminating those cartons or cargo bays also reduces the weight of the delivery system, so operators can carry heavier payloads or extend delivery ranges. As residential drone delivery scales, tools like these will ensure shippers can deliver or retrieve payloads just as a delivery van and driver would.”
When Will Drone Delivery Scale in the US?
A2Z Drone Delivery is based in the US, but conducts testing overseas. This lends the company a unique perspective on the global landscape for drone delivery operations. While the capability is there, Zhang says that regulations need to catch up in order for the U.S. market to achieve scale.
“The technology to safely conduct drone deliveries is already available, and the industry is really waiting for regulatory permissions to catch up with those capabilities,” says Zhang. “The US has been taking slow but measured steps over recent years to allow expansion of home delivery trials, and there is an expectation that new regulations will be promulgated in the coming year or so that stand to further expand those missions.”
“That said, other countries have been embracing drone delivery more aggressively than we’ve seen here. Japan, for example, drastically expanded its allowance for delivery drones to relieve the congestion of its logistics operators. In the areas around Shanghai, where our Ground Zero Test Facility is located, residential drone delivery has been a reality for quite some time.”
“There are major operators conducting deliveries every day. We actually partnered with local authorities to conduct local parcel deliveries in the rural areas around our test facility. These missions are a great opportunity for us to learn how consumers interact with our UAVs, and test our latest platforms under real life conditions.”
New Business Models: DDaS
Regulations are a key component to drone delivery at scale – but Zhang comments that he expects to see various business models emerge as the sector develops.
“The benefits in terms of manpower savings, reduced traffic congestion, mitigation of harmful emissions, etc. make a strong argument for the expansion of last mile drone delivery,” says Zhang. “In addition to regulatory changes, we’ll need to continue to leverage new autonomous delivery capabilities for drone delivery to truly scale.
“There will certainly be varying paradigms operating within the drone delivery sector, but one area we expect to see more from is drone-delivery-as-a-service, where customers can walk up to a kiosk and deposit a payload that gets whisked to its destination.
“In the near-future, those types of operations will likely be confined to closed sites where the customer controls the entire property, like an expansive maintenance facility or a mining operation. As operations like this demonstrate a track record for efficient and safe operations, then you could see general consumers getting more access to drone delivery for their personal payloads.”
The Upgraded RDST Longtail, Ready-to-Fly Commercial Delivery Drone
A2Z’s drone delivery platform will help some of those new business models take off. The redesigned RDST Longtail, a heavy lift hexacopter, offers a rainproof aircraft capable of carrying a 5kg payload of any shape over a distance of 11 km.
The RDST Longtail features the company’s factory-integrated RDS2 drone winch enabling payloads to be deposited safely from altitude where spinning rotors are kept far from people and property. The RDST Longtail hexacopter design is available in Standard configuration offering a 20 km maximum range, and a rainproof Premium version with battery quick-release system offering a maximum range of 26 km. With no need for specialty payload boxes, the RDST Longtail is able to auto-release the shippers’ own boxes without the need for a recipient to be on site to receive the payload.
Both models of the RDST Longtail offer a massive cargo bay that can accept packages up to 45L x 45W x 35H cm / 18L x 18H x 14H inches, giving operators the utmost payload flexibility. Operators will also appreciate the intuitive A2Z Ground Control Station (A2Z QGC) which integrates flight and winch commands with airframe telemetry for accurate navigation and delivery. The integrated open-source Q Ground Control mission planning software is capable of conducting pre-planned automated delivery missions without needing to land.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.
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