There are many important factors to consider in autonomous robot design, but for outdoor applications, environmental survivability is one of the most important. One of the most noteworthy aspects of the current robotics field is the recent advancements in battery and sensor performance that are driving mobility in delivery spaces. The flexible and scalable aspects of automation in supply chains are important force multipliers in business and will change the way people conduct business on a global scale. This is especially important when it comes to the growth of "last mile" delivery drones, which are designed to be the last step in the delivery process - the last link in the supply chain between origin and destination .
There are a plethora of issues surrounding the design of delivery drones including power management and sensor integration, but if the environmental survivability of the entire system isn’t completely addressed, the unit is very likely to fail. Failure modes can range from water and moisture damage and physical shock to vermin and tampering, and must be mitigated to protect the vehicle and ensure reliable operation.
Weatherproofing: How to protect delivery drones from water, dust and moisture
The first level of environmental protection involves sealing all sensitive areas of the vehicle to a waterproof protection level. This is important because both water and moisture can be extremely damaging to the electronics that power a vehicle and the cargo it carries. It is important to note the difference between moisture and water, as a seal that resists moist air but allows the entry of wind and rain is not an adequate solution.
Dust, dirt, and particulates are also dangerous to delivery drone systems for a number of reasons. Dust and dirt are the number one dirt risk, clogging and damaging vehicle systems and contaminating cargo. In addition, many types of dust and particles are both conductive and flammable, presenting both a short circuit risk and the potential for fire.
The electronics industry often uses the IEC standard ingress protection to define the required level of environmental protection. The standard uses a two-digit designation - the first digit represents protection against fine solids and fine particles such as dust and sand, and ranges from 0 (for no protection) to 6 (for full protection). The second number represents the protection against liquids and ranges from 0 to 9. IP67 is the most common designation, indicating complete protection against solid particles and protection against liquids for at least 30 minutes when immersed in shallow water (1 meter).
How to avoid damage from shock and vibration
Another major environmental consideration for delivery robots is physical shock and vibration. Causes can range from collisions with other vehicles or undetected obstacles to poor road conditions. If such mechanical risks are not addressed in the design, damage to internal and external components and their necessary connections can accumulate until the vehicle becomes inoperable.
Therefore, it is important not only to protect the vehicle's mechanical and electrical subsystems, but also to use robust connectors and cables with proper sealing and vibration damping.
Putting it all together: Building a last-mile autonomous delivery drone
Fortunately, when properly deployed in delivery robots, these mitigation techniques leverage each other to improve overall system reliability and performance. Board-level potting and sealing prevents ingress of foreign objects while providing damping material to absorb vibration.
Environmental and shock resistance are improved using a ruggedized interconnect system with IP rated performance and a positive locking mechanism. Every good solution can be an aspect of another solution in the system, all of which contribute to the ability and reliability of drone delivery vehicles to solve last-mile delivery problems.
As single-use plastics are phased out of all designs these delivery drones package delivery systems will need to be designed for reuse-able packaging components.
Solutions such as eliminating the need for bulky wasteful packaging all together with element sealed delivery of minimally package goods.
NorComp high-mating-cycle components allow for repetitive use to promote sustainability while sacrificing non of the performance and convenience.