Drones and Industry: Exploring the Ways Drones are Changing the World - with Drone Delivery Canada


Hello everyone thank you for joining us for our pre-recorded Drone Safety Day webinar series Drone Safety Day is aimed at promoting safe drone practices and exploring the cool and innovative ways drones are being used across Canada. 

My name is Shaheen Chohan and I'm a policy analyst working on the remotely piloted aircraft systems or drone task force at Transport Canada. 

Transport Canada is the department of the federal government responsible for regulating and developing Transportation policies and programs including those relating to drones. 

I'm joined by Mark Wienenberg, vice president of regulatory affairs at Drone Delivery Canada, a joint manufacturer specialized in logistics and delivery. 

Hi Mark thanks for joining us.

Thanks for having me. 

So, I guess we'll start off with learning a little bit more about Drone Delivery Canada or DDC’s drone operations, how do you use drones in your operations? 

So, from DDC we use drones to provide logistical solutions to areas that are either underserved or haven't been thought of yet with regards to delivery of goods and services. This can either be something for societal benefits, delivering medicines, supplies things like that, serving underserved communities, or it could be something on the business side or commercial side of being able to deliver a product faster to a customer. 

Sounds like you guys have a bunch of different use cases and applications.

We do.

How long have you been using drones in these different capacities for? 

Drone Delivery Canada has been using drones since 2014 in various capacities but since then We've hit some key milestones in our company activities that includes the development of our patented flight management system which is the end-to-end system for software and hardware that basically tracks aircraft maintenance, package deliveries, flight planning, weather everything that's needed from the start to the finish of a drone flight. 

It took a few years but that system has been developed. We've also worked on the development of three different remotely piloted aircraft systems used depending on the use case of the mission we're looking at, and finally, probably the last couple of years we participated in the Transport Canada beyond visual line of sight trial program as well as now working towards commercialization which we started earlier in 2019. 

So, you mentioned that you developed three different types of drones, do you use these drones in your operations or do you also use additional drones?

These are the main three that we use, so we have three that are either working right now or in development to be used in the future.

The first one is the Sparrow. It's about a 25-kilogram drone, carries about five kilograms worth of cargo and can go for about 30 kilometers. 

Next, is our Robin XL which is both a multi-rotor and a fixed-wing drone; it carries about 11 kilograms and can go about 60 kilometers. 

Our third one and probably the most exciting one is our Condor which is a converted helicopter. It's going to have the capability to carry about 180 kilograms to a distance of about 200 kilometers which is really going to be a game changer for the northern and the isolated communities.

You've mentioned all the different ways drones can be used so what advantage does using a drone have over other technologies?

There are several advantages depending on which use case we're looking at. One of the big ones is they can be cheaper, if we look at a use case such as Moosonee, which we did a trial at last year. 

They currently use a manned helicopter to fly packages supplies, even people from Moosonee to the island moose factory. 

That helicopter costs eighteen hundred dollars an hour, that's where they're taking a five-pound package or whether they're taking 300 pounds of cargo over. Whereas having a scalable solution of different size aircraft with different capabilities is obviously more economical. We can do it for a fraction of the price.

Additionally, from an environmental perspective some of our systems are battery only so it’s obviously better on the environment. It's also there's some ability not only of what we can do but where, if we have smaller clinics and smaller locations in northern communities that currently have no capability for traditional logistics capabilities and we can provide some of those services. 

So, if you live in Moosonee you cannot order from Amazon Prime, there's simply no way of getting the package there and that's something we all take for granted today, that I just go online I order my Amazon Prime and it shows up in two days.

They have such logistics of challenges in those areas that the basics that we take for granted aren't available, so that's where some more drones can come in and provide some of those solutions. 

If we look at Canada, we've done a bit of a study and there's over a thousand communities that could benefit from this type of technology.

So, because it's Drone Safety Day we need to ask what does drone safety mean to Drone Delivery Canada?

Drone safety I think the key thing is it's really the means by which we see the final outcome and the final potential of unmanned aviation. 

It's key to every part of the organization and to drone operations whether it's assembly whether it's operations or whether it's maintenance the company has to have a built-in ingrained safety culture because without that the realization in the end isn't going to be what the regulator needs, because obviously the regulator's responsibility is making sure safety is maintained. 

So, from a Drone Delivery Canada perspective we've developed a safety management system which those in aviation understand that’s what a safety management system is. 

It’s really a circular process of what was the problem, figure out the causes, figure out solutions, implement those solutions, you continue doing that and you have to do that on a daily basis not just on things that did happen but things that could happen, and so from a safety perspective it has to be ingrained in everybody. 

That part of the operation and the leadership of the company has to be proponents of the safety and it's got to come before everything else, before the business, before the testing, before the trialing, safety has to be that keystone that makes everything work.

Yeah safety's super important. 

So, maybe you could talk a little bit about the steps you've taken to ensure safety for you know your pilots but also the people on the ground?

Again, a big process of ours is our SMS system, our safety management system which is specifically designed for potential or actual risks and identifying that. 

But we have processes in place with regards to say from a pilot perspective there's an entire training program which we call the DDC university where they come in and they go through literally three days of ground school and training. 

This is beyond the pilot certificate that's required by Transport on the company's flight operations manual, our standard operating procedures, our checklist and going through all those activities. 

So, training's a big part of it, we have manuals as I said and checklists for that side, as well from our maintenance side because not just those that are operating the aircraft, the pilots, and maintainers are following the same processes each time so that we can ensure safety. 

So, I think we've developed a pretty comprehensive set of policies and practices and training to ensure that our operations stay safe.

Has DDC undertaken any specific public outreach programs in order to promote transparency and increase trust?

We do, as I sort of mentioned a little bit earlier one of our main focuses is when we go into a new location is that outreach, whether it's going out as I mentioned the airport operators or the local air operators, airlines helicopter, etc. it's also the communities. 

I'll use an example: we went up to Moosonee, we did an exposition at the school, we got the students interested. 

Part of our business model is once we establish the depots drone a and drone spot b those two depots we'd actually have local people that are actually trained by DDC being the handlers, people that would load the cargo, etc., do some of the basic ground work putting the batteries in the cargo things like that. 

So, I think yeah, from our point of view it's important to get the community involved, get that trust going, know that their needs and their concerns are taken into account obviously we've heard or you may have heard that privacy tends to be a big concern. 

From ours it's less of an issue because we really don't have any cameras on board, we're not taking pictures of anybody it's just carrying cargo, but you have to build that level of trust in the community so that the people understand, okay this is bringing the medicine to the hospital or this is providing this public good and are we accepting of the noise and the flight routes for that public good. 

There was an example of a scenario in Moosonee where, and this was before we had the operation there, but where a young child who actually lost their life because they couldn't get a specific medicine over to the island because of poor weather. Whereas the community might be more accepting or I would argue would be more accepting knowing that there's other means and methods of getting that there, and that's all part of doing that by getting the outreach getting into the community and see what their issues and concerns are. 

So, the Covid 19 pandemic has had, you know its challenges and opportunities so what has this meant for DDC? Has this meant different projects that you guys have been working on?

I wouldn't say its different projects but it's probably moving some of our intended projects ahead quicker. 

From an aviation perspective in general Covid has had a huge impact in a negative way, but from the drone space we're actually seeing the opposite, lots of growth, lots of opportunity. 

We're working on a few projects, I mentioned the one in Moosonee, we're doing some flight tests right now for our larger aircraft that we'd like to, or the intent is to bring to Moosonee and service three or four of the communities that are 100 - 180 kilometers from Moosonee. 

Providing goods and services without that human contact because everything could be loaded at one end the aircraft goes the other with no pilot on board, so there's no human interaction and the person on the other end can simply extract the cargo on the other end. 

Which helps with the whole social distancing?

Definitely with social distancing. 100 kilometers is a good social distance. 

Then there's two which you may have seen recently in the news, there's one in Christian Island which is in Georgian Bay a couple hours north of Toronto working on that with the global medic which is an emergency response organization. 

As well as there's one we're looking at Georgina Island, Lake Simcoe and both of those are island-based first nations communities where obviously the concern of Covid spread is significant because many of these communities don't have the medical infrastructure that we would see in the larger cities. so, less exposure means less chance less risk of catching something less impact on their medical services.

We're looking at doing deliveries with our Sparrow, that's the smaller one, five-kilogram deliveries back and forth.

Currently they use ferries and vehicles to do some of these but if we can reduce those numbers to lower numbers crossing over the ferry that obviously reduces the risk so a few projects related to Covid specific and those would be whether it's medical samples whether it be test kits whether it be medical supplies, medical equipment, what have you, we're looking at providing those to those two communities and as I mentioned earlier that's somewhere and by the end of q3 we hopefully will have both those up and running in a beyond visual line of sight capacities.

Sounds exciting. 

It Is.

Well it definitely sounds like drones are the way of the future. How does Drone Delivery Canada envision drones to change the face of logistics and delivery?

Completely, I think it's going to have a huge impact if we think about today, everything that's touched by the supply chain in some way or another could have the potential to have drones involved in that supply chain. 

We already talked a bunch about the medical ones let's talk about a mining scenario where they need to get a part from one piece of the mine to the bottom of the pit and by car it'll take three hours because you've got to go down the windy road well that three hours cost them billions of dollars when the machinery is down, or you can fly it down in a drone in five minutes. 

So, there's medical there's mining there's industrial complexes where they need to move parts back and forth perhaps packages, things like that. 

There's been some discussions about moving cannabis products because that's a secure product, removing banknotes things that are secure much less risk to move them by air than it is by moving them via traditional put them in the back of a van kind of thing. 

So there's some security aspects with that as well and then in the end there's also going to be the consumer product part right? how do we deliver consumer products either to the stores, so say from a warehouse to a store or eventually and I say eventually many years down the road that model where perhaps you can go from a warehouse to an individual's property and deliver goods or items that they've ordered.

So, speaking on that in recent decades we've seen Canada’s cities become more and more congested, so do you see drones having a hand in improving urban mobility?

For sure, in a couple ways I think. First there's the potential there to remove other modes off the roads, right?

If we're doing delivery using drones well perhaps the UPS truck or the FedEx truck or the postal truck, I don't know how many of those are in Ottawa but you can imagine there's a few thousands of those driving around just in Ottawa alone. Removing some of those off the street obviously makes it easier, that's a very simple solution. 

But if we start thinking out further the lessons learned we’re gaining from using drones in the management of them in this kind of airspace environment, that's going to go into things such as urban air mobility or advanced air mobility concepts. 

It's called flying taxis but the mobility of people off the traditional buses and roads and railway systems things like that. The term I've heard is a mile of road gets you a mile of road, and they cost you however much, whereas a mile of infrastructure that's going to support drones urban air mobility and other modes is going to get you unlimited amounts of miles that you can fly from there to different locations. 

So, I think in the end it's really going to be a lot of work from all sorts of stakeholder’s community developments the regulators, the operators, and the public have to be comfortable but the lessons that we're learning today and Transports learning today from the ongoing operations are going to pay dividends later on in when we get to those levels of urban air mobility.

Absolutely and you know multimodal integration is one of the things Transport is really concerned about so that makes a lot of sense.

So that covers our questions for Drone Delivery Canada thank you mark for joining us it was a pleasure having you here. 

Thanks for letting us participate today, appreciate it.

The next webinars in our Drone Safety Day pre-recorded webinar series will provide an overview of drone safety basics and explore the cool and innovative ways drones are being used across Canada.

Be sure to check them out as well.

Got questions about safe drone operations or something you may have seen or heard during our webinars? Tune in to Transport Canada's twitter chat to be held on November 13th at 1pm. We'll have a group of drone experts available on hand to answer any burning questions you may have - live.

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