Copyright Shogo Suzuki © 2014. All rights reserved.

Y3 Project 2 | Drone Logistics. London drone logistics network plan

About project

Tutors: Alisdair Russell, Stuart Buckenham, Chris McCurtin

Elephant and Castle in it’s heyday, was called the Picadilly Circus of south of the river. It had great transport links through the underground northern and bakerloo line, the overground rail, tram and road links. However since the gentrification and car-centric development of Elephant and Castle, it has since become a vantage point for large amounts of traffic and congestion.

This is an increasing problem that has been a part of London for decades, and with the population of London estimated to increase by 38% from 8.3 million to 11.3 million by 2050, the infrastructure of London is being overloaded. With this, there is an estimated need of a 70% increase in public transport capacity. Upgrades to the tube network, rail, and buses, are being made, however with the future forecast of people moving to urban areas and the growth of megacities, continuous upgrading of our existing transportation modes might not be sufficient enough.

Currently there are technological advancements of vehicles being made, such as the development of driverless autonomous vehicles, predicted to make the roads much more efficient, making more cars move faster through roads, without the need for traffic lights.

I believe that the use of innovative and new technology like this will be required to keep London competing in the global economy as a top world-class city.

Another new technology that is currently being explosively explored and developed, is unmanned flying autonomous vehicles, or the more familiar name of drones. They’re essentially small driverless helicopters. This pioneering new technology I believe is a gateway to a new era in transportation.

Drones were initially developed by the military in the US to assist missions in the year 2000. Since then, with the breakthrough in consumer electronics by the smartphone, the sensors and computing hardware required by a drone have become significantly smaller and cheaper, resulting in an explosion of development in commercial and personal drones.

So why would drones be a great addition to our current modes of transport?

It is because they open up an extra dimension in the direction we can move. Our current methods of transport allow us to move in only one plane, forwards, backwards, left and right. However with aerial vehicles, this will add another dimension of up and down, allowing us to use shorter and more efficient paths without congesting a small area.

Flying vehicles also allow us to increase the amount of infrastructure, without creating or extending any roads or rails, resulting in near to no ecological footprint, saving enormous amounts of resources. This is seen by the commercialization of airplanes, with enormous amounts of people and freight being able to be transported internationally. By the vehicles being autonomous, we can avoid congestion and accidents caused by human error, which would be a bigger problem if they were driven by humans as we find it difficult to navigate in 3D space, when up and down is added to the directions we can move in.

Drones require no runways as they are essentially the same as a helicopter, meaning we can use them effectively in smaller distances and tighter routes. They are small and agile due to their quad rotor design and sensors, which differentiates them from helicopters. In the past 15 years there has been exponential improvement in the capability of drones, and just as we saw the Moore’s law effect with personal computers and the internet, we might see an entrance into a drone revelation. At this current point in time, quad rotor drones can carry payloads of several kilograms and in general fly for around an hour, with a few being able to fly many hours. It will not be long until they can carry as much as a small private jet and have enough computing power to detect sudden changes in environment, avoid each-other and be able to land safely in the unlikely event of an accident.

So before we can transport humans with quad rotor drones, we must first practice by safely developing goods delivery drones without the dangers of flying people. Once these drones have been perfected, we can easily transition into the era of flying large numbers of people in a city through the air.

To achieve this, I am proposing an addition to the current London infrastructure upgrade plan, through the use of low altitude airspace with autonomous aerial vehicles (drones) in this project.