How Microsoft AI is helping delivery drones to make quick-fire decisions

microsoft ai delivery drone express

Ohio-based logistics company Drone Express is readying to manufacture a new version of its DE-2020 delivery drone, which would use Microsoft AI for in-flight navigation systems. “While our competitors are focusing on how to carry more weight, we are focusing on building a more intelligent aircraft,” quips Beth Flippo, CEO of Drone Express.

The last-mile delivery provider says it’s on track to become one of the first companies in the US to attain a Part 135 FAA certification for autonomous drone delivery. But doing so wouldn’t have been possible without Microsoft Azure hosting Drone Express’s AI solutions and training its machine learning models.

Drone Express trains its machine learning models by feeding them photos of obstacles and scenarios that the drones could encounter and teaching them to identify safe delivery areas. Because these models must run on the aircraft in real time, it’s important that the AI models use minimal processing power but still deliver inferences quickly so that the drone can react mid-flight. This is where the Microsoft team comes in. With their help, Drone Express has designed hardware that can run model computations in a power-constrained environment while remaining lightweight and not overheating. 

The first aircraft with this hardware will enter production by the end of this month.

Read: Japan eases flight rules to boost residential drone delivery

Drone Express says implementing machine learning that would allow drones to make split-second decisions is important to remove the potential for human error and increase the overall safety profile of the aircraft. “A pilot on the ground could be having a bad day, which can affect safety,” Flippo points out. “The drone isn’t going to make the same mistakes.”

Moreover, AI can help Drone Express to deliver packages faster. The company expects to reduce the time the drone takes to choose a safe spot and release the package from around five minutes to one minute. Flippo explains:

Our team embraces anything that’s going to make us safer and better and put us ahead of the competition. Our people understand that implementing AI is going to make their jobs better and help them move into other areas like air traffic control. Part 135 is key to being able to fly beyond the visual line of sight.

Drone Express’s first partner was the Kroger Company grocery chain. The company has also worked alongside Papa John’s locations in Georgia and Ohio for pizza delivery, and engaged with Winsupply for construction supply delivery in Ohio.

Read: Matternet begins production of FAA-certified delivery drones in US 

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