Drone papers: How to get them and who will control them?  Interview with the head of the office of integration of unmanned systems

Portuguese startup Connect Robotics as early as 2018, he put into practice what is only theorized in most of the world – drone delivery. He specializes in autonomous drone navigation for flights outside the visual line of sight (BVLOS). The healthcare sector has proven to be an ideal starting industry. “These higher-priority shipments have proven to open the door to a complex legislative process that preceded obtaining the necessary permits. On the other hand, in addition to avionics and safety permits, we also need a number of medical permits. ” says co-founder and startup director Eduardo Mendes.

Connect Robotics services were used by some major Portuguese laboratories and pharmaceutical distributors to transport drugs and blood. The past tense is in place, as drones are currently grounded due to the transition from Portuguese legislation to European Union legislation. The change was supposed to be smooth, but in practice there was a gap of several months, which forced the company to suspend running contracts.

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We talked at the agency booth Enterprise Europe Networkwhich helps the startup to gain new business partners. On the left Eduardo Mendes, co-founder and director of Connect Robotics, on the right Jorge Duque from EEN.

So, on the one hand, there is a problem, but on the other hand, there is an opportunity – when the company manages to comply with the new legislation, the market of the entire European Union will open up to it. And certainly not idle, he uses this inactive interval to build new relationships – he is working on a new project in Belgium using high-precision delivery technology for navigation in urban and suburban areas.

Shipment price

During an interview with Eduard Mendes at the Lisbon WebSummit, I was interested in the cost of drone delivery. “It depends on the client’s requirements, flight distance, size and weight of shipments, number of drones and other parameters. We hand over the entire technology to the customer and he runs it himself. The costs range from one to three thousand euros per month. This means certain fixed costs and it is up to the customer how much the drones use, how they dissolve the costs into individual flights. One example for all. We work with a pharmacy that supplies a retirement home in the mountains above the city. For a person with a car, it is a two-hour journey and for regulatory reasons it is not possible to send the consignment by courier service, it must be delivered by a pharmacist. So you have to have a car, you pay for its operation, fuel and the time of professional staff. Dron manages the same journey in 15 minutes and the pharmacist can stay at his workplace. “ narrates Eduardo.

In this case, an economic comparison of the two delivery methods overwhelmingly wins the drone. This particular customer uses drones for 90% of the maximum capacity (in the context of the laboratory’s opening hours) and with an average price of one year, it reaches 7 euros. For other customers, the economic comparison is not so advantageous, but the priority is speed.

I was wondering if Connect Robotics is also interested in delivering regular goods to regular customers: “Drones are still quite expensive for this, and they also have to fly on pre-verified routes, so it doesn’t make sense yet. That time will come, first in certain situations, in certain places, but it will take a few more years, ” answers Eduardo.

The biggest challenges and security

I wanted Eduardo to talk about the technological challenges they had to overcome in the operation, but the technology seems to be solved. He just reiterates that the biggest challenge is regulation. Each new customer means 300 pages of documentation, approval of new routes, staff training, retrieval of a number of confirmations and certificates.

Of course, drones must reflect other air traffic. In practice, drones encounter helicopters that move around medical facilities, but everything is taken care of by software and virtually eliminates any collision. And safety is exemplary, with three years and thousands of flights, drones have not lost a single shipment. “Our drones have a parachute, but we’ve never had to use it before, it’s more of a psychological insurance policy for our customers,” laughs Mendes.

In the video, he is interested in the fact that the drone drops the shipment into the “basketball hoop”. In this case, it is not necessary, there is enough space for landing, but Connect Robotics can deliver to the balcony, where space is no longer available, but you just need to attach a basket to the railing:

Connect Robotics currently flies drones of three brands: DJI, T-Drones and Vertical Technologies with a range of 30, 35 and 100 km, shipment parameters can be adjusted, but most often where a cubic space of about 20 to 25 centimeters weighing one to two kilograms. But the hardware is in a sense secondary, it is a commonly available machine, they are purchased according to the parameters and requirements of the customer. The main thing is software that the company has developed itself.

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