Purdue signature

December 3, 2013

Delivery drones feasible but hurdles remain, says Purdue instructor

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A Purdue University engineer and private pilot said Amazon's plan to deliver packages with drones is feasible, but several challenges must be met to prevent midair collisions with small aircraft and accidents near the ground.

"Do I think it's going to happen? Absolutely," said John Nolfi, a continuing lecturer in Purdue's School of Mechanical Engineering. "Do I think there are challenges to be solved? Absolutely."

Problems include limited battery life, the momentary loss of GPS signal, the need to avoid small aircraft and to navigate around obstacles such as houses, cars and people, he said.

"You have to have some type of protocol so that if the drone fails it does not crash into a house or hit a person," said Nolfi, an engineer and private pilot. "And you would have to establish ways to avoid small aircraft, perhaps a dedicated flight corridor or a signal that is picked up by pilots alerting them to the presence of a drone."

Nolfi teaches a senior-design course in which students this semester built a drone helicopter and designed it to fly autonomously. 

Media Contact: Emil Venere, 765-494-4709, venere@purdue.edu 

Source: John Nolfi, 765-496-7869, nolfijg@purdue.edu