Delivery is essential for every different industry in America and across the world. Whether it is the primary source of revenue for a company or a supplemental factor, streamlining the delivery process can make companies more money. Technology and delivery have walked hand in hand since people started getting things delivered. From the smallest change, such as riding a bike instead of walking, technology has helped improve delivery.
The current trend in changes is coming in the form of drone delivery, and that’s what this project is focused on. It has the potential to drastically change the way we shop. Online ordering, which has already become a scale of days can soon become a scale of minutes. Pizza delivery could become faster, easier, and frankly, cooler.
Texas Instruments, our sponsor, hopes to see its products and platforms being utilized heavily in the rapidly growing market of drone-based infrastructure. Our goal is to use and modify TI hardware, specifically a MSP432 microcontroller, to operate as the flight controller platform for the drone. For the purposes of this project, the payload, pizza, will be fixed. As we are not trying specifically to build a drone tailored for this application, we have modified a pre-built drone kit to suit our needs.
Modifying this drone kit to handle the capabilities of delivery is a process that involves iteration, testing, and rapid prototyping to accomplish our goals. The initial choosing of which drone kit was important. The size had to be carefully determined to both handle our payloads and stay within constraints imposed on us by power capabilities and federal restrictions. A drop mechanism had to be designed that could keep a payload stable and provide the force needed to release under stress. Being able to integrate things like this drop mechanism into our electronic capabilities was also important. We’ve made progress on this project by designing this drop mechanism and integrating it into both our electronic system and the purchased drone-kit.
Turning the MSP432 microcontroller into a capable flight controller is a multi-step endeavor. However, with open-source code already available with the Ardupilot and Pixhawk platforms, the process has been made slightly easier. With an extensive amount of work already complete, our goal has been to bridge the remaining gaps presented by differences in the hardware. This includes interfacing with the sensors and motors and tailoring the code to run on a different microcontroller architecture. The progress our team has made towards this goal has been creating the code necessary to run motors and designing a method of carrying and dropping the payload for an octocopter platform.
Automation of the transport of goods and services clearly has huge potential, with many industry heavyweights like Amazon and Dominos, which I mentioned before, mounting large-scale efforts to include drones into their delivery infrastructure. This project is a big step in creating the delivery machines of tomorrow and the research that we conduct and prototypes we build will inform the industry on what works and what doesn’t.