Parking drones on city buses may solve their biggest delivery issue

The idea of delivering packages using drones isn't without controversy, yet appears to be an inevitable part of our future. Many companies have been developing and testing various drone-based delivery systems over past years, some having reached the point of limited drone delivery trials, real-world tests, and even partnerships. There's still one very big issue when it comes to these vehicles, however, and city buses may be the solution.

Drones must strike a balance between weight and battery life, meaning they don't have a very long range at this time. The lack of adequate range limits how drones can be used — typically they can't deliver to destinations more than 10 or 15 miles from their launch point because they need enough battery life to turn around and return home.

This means that at the present moment, drones are limited to delivering small products from stores that are close to the customer — examples include drug stores, fast-food stores, convenience shops, and similar destinations. Deliveries to more distant locations may be possible, however, without increasing the drone or battery size by leveraging machines already in use: city buses.

Using algorithms and the existing city bus networks in San Francisco and the Washington DC metro area, researchers with the Stanford School of Engineering found that it is possible for drones to quadruple their effective delivery range by hitching a ride on top of ground vehicles. Drones that used these vehicles were able to deliver their payloads in an hour or two, depending on the city.

These buses are already in operation in cities around the world, as well as other types of vehicles. A system could potentially be developed that targets drones at the most ideal bus for its route, prompting it to safely land on and adhere to the bus, then disengage and fly the rest of its route at the ideal time.