We developed a custom end-to-end logistics platform, providing seamless communication across the organization from auto-pilot, routing, tracking, logistics, and customer service, & billing.
Custom Logistics Platform
.NET, Google Maps API, SQL, C#
Our task was to turn concept and processes for using drones for depot-to-depot delivery into functional, customizable drone delivery logistics platform.
Drone Delivery Canada is developing drone technology to provide Canadian retailers, service organizations, and government agencies with a just-in-time drone delivery service. The company is focused on the design, development, and implementation of its proprietary logistics software platform, using drones, as Software as a Service (SaaS) for government and corporate organizations.
When Drone Delivery Canada met with Whitecap, they presented a four-foot by six-foot diagram that mapped out the process flow of how a company could use drones to deliver packages from one point to another.
The challenge was taking the concept, processes, and procedures, and turning them into a software solution that would allow Drone Delivery Canada to move packages from one location to another without drone operators or maintaining a visual line of sight connection with the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).
While developing the software to deliver on Drone Delivery Canada’s vision, Whitecap identified and worked to resolve numerous unforeseen challenges that arose when breaking new ground to innovate a viable solution for commercial drone deliveries.
New Language, Protocols and Processes
While personal drones are flown within line of sight using radio controllers that have a specific range, Whitecap needed to deliver commands to a drone over distance. Using an operator isn’t a viable business option because each drone would need an operator, making the cost of delivering packages unsustainable.
For Drone Delivery, UAVs needed autopilot systems to direct drones along the programmed flight path, and limited autonomous capabilities to handle emergency situations safely. They also needed sensors to prevent in-air collisions.
And, the platform needed to do more than track packages. Whitecap knew Drone Delivery Canada needed to create a single platform, capable of communicating with diverse systems including the drone autopilot software, flight control, situational awareness systems, logistics, customer billing systems, customer support, package handling and tracking, as well as battery management and maintenance, in highly-secure environment.
“Figuring out how Flyte could talk to the drones was the first hurdle.”
The model required the drone to receive flight details and execute autonomous flight, so Whitecap needed to figure out how to securely send all the data needed to successfully complete an unmanned, BVLOS flight to the drone, and have the drone report to operations in real time.
Whitecap developers explain “there was nothing out there or anywhere we could draw on that could do this”.
Starting with a blank page, Whitecap developed a protocol for communicating with the drone, developing a new language and then writing the software needed to communicate complex commands in that language.
With the language developed, Whitecap now needed to develop the program to manage the logistics part of the platform so that a package could be taken, for example, from Moosonee to Moose Factory and return, safely.
Flyte’s sophisticated programming links autopilot software, limited autonomous flight systems, real-time flight details, weather and approved routing, to allow the UAV to move through a 3D space filled with obstacles to reach a designated destination safely.
As the business evolves, Whitecap’s solution isn’t limited to one autopilot software but can be modified to integrate with any autopilot solution making it more flexible.
One challenge that arose during development was how Drone Delivery Canada would manage and track the power status of the many batteries its drones need to fly. It was quickly realized that in addition to logistics, Drone Delivery Canada needed an easy to understand system for managing batteries.
Delivering packages by drone takes a lot of battery power and the operations centre needs to be able to see which batteries are charged, which aren’t, how many times each one has been charged, which ones are reaching the end of their lifecycle and receive alerts when batteries are faulty.
New software was developed to let Flyte connect to commercial battery chargers and provide real-time reporting on every battery and its status. The software also lets operations tell handlers exactly which battery they should use as part of their pre-flight checklist.
Put simply, Whitecap’s software tells the UAV handler to open bay 3 and use these batteries for the next flight. When the drone returns to the drone spot, the handlers place the used batteries in a specified area of the charging system, which communicates updated battery health information to Flyte.
READY TO DELIVER
Drone Delivery Canada is looking to make UAVs one part of a business’ logistics options all the required data for drone delivery pre-configured into the logistics platform.
In the future, a business client would be able to log into their logistics platform and have access to Flyte data, so they can see, on a single screen, both traditional and drone delivery options, while being able to create manifests for drone delivery from a single sign-on. One of the next steps will be to fully integrate the software platform developed by Whitecap into a client’s internal logistics platform.
MASSIVE GROWTH AND SUCCESS
- Whitecap created a new language to communicate with drones beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) without Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) operators.
- Drone Delivery Canada receives Special Flight Operating Certificate from Transport Canada to become the first and only company in Canada to successfully achieve BVLOS test flights; proving BVLOS technical capability and paving the way for commercialization.
- Successful test flights in the Moosonee area have been completed, and logistics agreements are in place with first commercial customers.
- Pending regulatory approval, commercial deliveries expected to start in 2018.