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Beep, beep! Team Roadrunner breaks drone delivery record

Steve Rogerson
May 24, 2017



A record has been set in long-distance drone package delivery. This month, a Nevada UAS Consortium (Team Roadrunner) set the record flying a fixed-wing unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) over 150km to Austin, Texas, using cellular connectivity.
 
Launched from a central Texas urban location, the UAV flew a pre-planned route through the National Airspace System (NAS) using a combination of a mobile command and control and a visual observer team. Stationary visual observers across the flight route were equipped with enhanced radios and mobile phone communications, which allowed the UAV to be flown using a cellular communications link until it successfully landed and delivered its package in Austin, Texas.
 
Team Roadrunner consisted of the FAA-designated Nevada UAS Test Site (Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems), Volans-i UAS, Latitude UAS, AUV Flight Services, and the ground and mobile visual observer support from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) worldwide campuses.
 
"This was the most challenging, logistically-intensive, and longest package delivery demonstration recorded to date using cellular technology in the NAS, and allowed us the opportunity to demonstrate innovative capability, a demonstration necessity for the UAS industry," said Chris Walach, director of the FAA-designated Nevada UAS Test Site and adjunct assistant professor at ERAU. "Assembling a resilient team, being at the right place at the right time, with the right innovative technology, and entrepreneurial perspective is what allowed us to accomplish this mission."
 
He said drone package delivery in an urban and remote environment was the wave of the future, and Nevada was leading and helping to grow this major commercial endeavour.
 
“These package delivery milestones prove that new UAS technology enables the safe integration of UAS into the NAS for long-distance and urban package deliveries," he said.
 
Nevada previously conducted historic package delivery BLOS demonstrations in Hawthorne, Nevada, at over 62km as well as the first publicly-recorded package delivery to a Reno, Nevada, homeowner. 
 
For this mission, to embed an additional layer of safety into this operation, visual observers were placed along the route and a ground mobile visual observer team was deployed in remote areas.
 
"Team Roadrunner was organised and very professional to work with" said Scott Burgess, associate professor at ERAU. “It is very exciting to be part of something truly ground breaking. Integration of students and alumni on similar projects with NIAS in the future extends our outreach to the industry.”
 
Kandi Windham, campus director, at ERAU, added: "Aviation has evolved much since the days of the Wright Brothers and I truly believe that unmanned systems are going to revolutionise the aviation industry and beyond. I am proud that Embry-Riddle faculty, students and fellow alumni are actively playing a part in this incredible journey."
 
And Hannan Parvizian, Volans-i founder, said: "This was an extremely complicated mission. Making sure that the UAS met all the performance characteristics was only one piece. Great emphasis was placed on flight safety, airworthiness, communication, command and control as well as air and ground coordination, and VO logistics. The Volans-i, Latitude, AUV Flight Services, and the NIAS team worked extremely well together. Given the complexity and the ultimate success of the mission, it is clear to me that we couldn't have picked a better team."
 
The Nevada UAS test site is one of seven Federal Aviation Administration-designated UAS test sites. It planned this mission in consultation with the Lone Star UAS test site based out of Corpus Christie, Texas.
 
"Creating a safe and thriving drone industry is an incredible challenge, especially when you couple that with drone package delivery," said Steve Hill, executive director of the Nevada Governor's Office of Economic Development. “The loss of communications during a long flight is a real concern, but because of this mission, cellular technology can be relied upon to ensure that communication with a drone is not lost over a long-distance delivery. The record-breaking success of Team Roadrunner's aerial package delivery mission proves that diligent testing in complex conditions will lead to drone delivery becoming reality.”