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With proper direction, drones can boost commerce

USC Viterbi team explores ways to optimize the commercial applications of unmanned aerial vehicles

USC Viterbi Drones Airforce
John Carlsson focuses on resource distribution using drones. (Photo/Kirill Voloshin)

The use of drones as observation vehicles has become increasingly popular. But when a drone is assigned to monitor a particular region, it’s crucial to devise an algorithm that makes certain it goes to the right places.

John Carlsson, assistant professor at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, is tackling this issue. His latest work, which focuses on resource distribution using drones, has received the Air Force Office of Scientific Research award granted to only 42 scientists and engineers in research institutions across the United States.

“Drones are very different from cars, which makes routing for both vehicles very different,” Carlsson said. “While cars have to go on streets, stop at traffic lights and use roads, drones can potentially go anywhere, anytime.”

Apart from threat surveillance, Carlsson’s work has other applications, especially in commerce, where companies like Amazon are already exploring package delivery that uses drones. The process would be much more efficient if, instead of returning to the warehouse several times, the drone came back to a truck that was already moving in the direction of the order’s final destination.

“This project is extremely compelling and important since besides all military applications of unmanned aerial vehicles, we are at the beginning of the era of using drones in commercial applications,” said Mehdi Behroozi, a USC Viterbi PhD student working on Carlsson’s research team. “We are very excited to use our analytical and mathematical skills to plan the allocation of a fleet of drones in delivery services.”

In the works

This method, called the horse fly, was created and trademarked by a company called AMP Electric Vehicles and, according to Carlsson, it represents a great potential for improving efficiency.

“When you think of a drone that is going around, you picture it going back and forth from a station,” Carlsson said. “If you launch the drones from trucks in movement, that would optimize the process.”

As part of the Air Force grant, Carlsson hopes he can have a class project where he can launch drones from a moving car. While his students found the idea very exciting, it is still in the works.

“I worked on the grant proposal with a couple of PhD students, and I’m currently developing a drone-launching project for my undergraduate students,” he said.

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With proper direction, drones can boost commerce

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