Drone Hitchhikers

This is an interesting idea. Having the ability to charge while on the buses would enhance the idea.

It reminds me of some of the concepts for planetary exploration with a “mothership” and flocks of cubesat “birds” (e.g., to send a bunch, or consecutive waves, through the plumes of Enceladus to capture data in both time and position).

8 thoughts on “Drone Hitchhikers”

  1. Very interesting idea.

    On the plus side, besides extending range, would be just keeping drones out of the air to a potentially much greater extent, vastly diminishing the problem of controlling their traffic.

    On the minus side, drones would take appreciably longer to get to most locations, especially those beyond their nominal operating ranges, than would be the case if they flew the entire way in more or less straight lines. Buses stop and start a lot with frequent delays for loading and off-loading passengers. The delays increase when any of said passengers have bicycles or wheelchairs.

    I don’t know what the optimum routings would be and I suspect that could only be determined with the addition of bus transponders, to make their precise locations and velocities known in real time, along with non-trivial computational resources. Amazon, the foremost exponent of delivery drone technology, already has the computational horsepower needed. Given Bezos’s considerable influence in the Democratic Party, perhaps the addition of real-time location transponders to urban bus fleets is also straightforwardly within his ambit.

    Perhaps the delay problem could be ameliorated if, instead of just buses, individual owners of passenger cars, could volunteer to make extra money – Uber and Lyft-like – by offering their own vehicle roofs as range-extending platforms for delivery drones. Such a system would work best if such owners also agreed to installation of real-time locators and a nav system that would allow indication of destinations for all trips. This would vastly ease the optimization of drone routes and compensate for the fact that private cars, unlike buses, operate on no fixed schedule or route.

    To the extent Elon Musk’s vision of vast transit tunnel networks becomes reality, these tunnels would provide additional range extension – and speed – opportunities anent conventional surface-only transport.

    The advent of a more Jetsonian America will, as has always been the case, be a process and not an event.

    1. This is the ultimate Traveling Salesman optimization problem. The simulated annealing algorithm has solved this decades ago, with minimal computational resources.

      I do see an opportunity for entrepreneurs to come up with roof rack modules to put on buses, providing, in addition to mere landing sites, an array of services such as bus route information, landing pad availability, terminal guidance beacons, and of course charging stations.

      People have to get over the “safety” aspect of all of this. And by “people”, I mean the FAA. No city-delivery drone is going to be flying anywhere near another airplane, and none of them would cause appreciable damage if they just fell out of the sky. FAA always goes berserk if a non-standard flying thing is used for profit. Profit is a dirty word in FAA, for no damn good reason. Rather than think about it, they ban it. It’s un-American.

      1. When you ban something, you’ve made one decision and don’t need to make any more. Just hand it over to the guys with guns to enforce your order.

        If you regulate or mange something, then you are constantly needing to handle the unforeseen and unexpected. That requires work. And it’s hard to hand over to the guys with guns to enforce all those decisions.

  2. It’s hard to see how this could work without a purpose-built vehicle. A drone can fly farther empty than loaded so it would make sense to launch the drone as close to the destination as possible.

    I can see a truck loaded with packages and drones following a route where it would launch drones and drive on while the drones would either catch up at a subsequent stop or perch somewhere until a ride came by.

    I suppose using a bus would mean that the loaded drones would land and just wait until it was close to its destination.

  3. I can see a truck loaded with packages and drones following a route where it would launch drones and drive on while the drones would either catch up at a subsequent stop or perch somewhere until a ride came by.

    I think I have already seen something like that, only the “drones” were temporary drivers hired by UPS for the Christmas holiday delivery season. Small vans for delivering into neighborhoods being loaded off and on of flat bed trailers at truck stops at the edge of town.

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