Master of Science
Drones are small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) with the potential to rapidly offset the commercial delivery industry. Their benefits are obvious; drones, through their autonomous capabilities and high degree of maneuverability, can significantly improve current delivery infrastructures by improving delivery times and safely servicing remote regions as well as offering a more energy efficient mode of transport. However, current drone models have limited ranges that are not sufficient for practical delivery applications and cannot safely operate in urban areas that present unique challenges like dynamic obstacles. Simply increasing the battery size carries several fundamental disadvantages: larger batteries add weight to drones reducing their payload capability; larger batteries increase the footprint of drones reducing their maneuverability and limiting their operating areas; and larger batteries require more power to lift, compounding the problem. As a solution, we propose an alternative relay-based smart scheduling scheme for delivering packages over long distances using coordinated handoffs at stopover sites between a network of drones. This delivery strategy minimizes delivery time, offers a more balanced workload among drones, and enables deliveries that are outside the range of any single drone. The viability of our new approach is implemented and tested on a real-world prototype using actual drone models in various delivery situations and test beds. The results show that our prototype system can autonomously manage and complete several challenging delivery scenarios.
Summary for Lay Audience
Drones are a rapidly emerging technology that are receiving increased attention from the commercial delivery industry because of their potential benefits. These generally small flying vehicles can operate autonomously and are highly maneuverable, which makes them excellent for delivering packages. Drones can complete deliveries faster than ground vehicles that suffer from traffic congestion, safely transport items in crisis regions too dangerous for humans, and are more environmentally friendly due to their electric powertrains. However, most drone models available today have a limited flight range, usually less than 10 km, which makes them infeasible for practical long-distance deliveries. In addition, drones cannot safely operate in dense urban areas like cities that have unique challenges like dynamic obstacles. The straightforward approach of simply increasing the battery size to extend flight range has some key disadvantages: larger batteries are heavier which reduces the payload the drones can carry; larger batteries decrease the excellent maneuverability of drones due to their bigger size; and these heavier batteries require more power to lift, which compounds the problem. In this work, we present an alternative approach for completing long-distance deliveries using drones. Our solution uses a relay-based scheduling strategy where drones work together to complete deliveries that a single drone cannot. Like a relay race, they transport the package between warehouses and hand it off to another drone that is ready to continue the journey while the previous drone recharges. This delivery strategy minimizes the delivery time because the package is still being transported while drones are recharging and balances the workload among the drones. We tested the viability of our new approach by implementing it on a real-world prototype using actual drone models. Through the various delivery situations that we tested, the results show that our prototype system can autonomously manage and deliver packages over long distances.
Zakar, Muhammad, "Developing a Relay-based Autonomous Drone Delivery System" (2023). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 9472.
Available for download on Friday, August 22, 2025