What Are Warehouse Drones?

Ian Smith

When investigating different types of warehouse automation, drones will inevitably pop up in your search. It's only been within the past few years (as I'm writing this in late 2019) that warehouse drones have been a truly feasible reality. The reasons for this are mainly due to the technology required for drones to safely and reliably navigate indoors (without GPS) finally being available.

Warehouse drones are aerial robotics platforms that typically operate indoors, inside of warehouses or distribution centers. They have robust obstacle and collision avoidance systems, capable vision sensors, and robust on-board processing power. They can safely operate without GPS signals and, because they fly indoors, they don't have to comply with regulations from aviation rule makers, like the FAA. Typically, warehouse drones are tasked with remote sensing operations inside of facilities - using their vision systems (cameras) to capture data inside the warehouse. This means that warehouse drones are not physically moving anything or doing order picking inside of distribution centers. Warehouse drones are just one component of a warehouse automation system: data collection.

For the better part of our present decade, drones have specifically been used outdoors for businesses in industries like agriculture, construction, utilities, land surveying, and energy. Companies like DJI (who make drone hardware) and DroneDeploy (who make drone software) have excelled at building solutions for these users. Now, in 2019, we've created Ware so that we can solve problems for warehouses, indoors, with flying robots. There are many reasons why we use drones at Ware to improve inventory processes and efficiency for warehouses and distribution centers - here are a couple.

Today, drones are smarter than ever before

The drones of today are drastically more advanced than those from just 6 years ago. Here's a picture of a "state-of-the-art" drone I built for my first business back in 2013:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">2013: what near state-of-the-art drone tech looked like. $5.5k &amp; 40+ hrs of labor. Soldering, programming, sourcing/cobbling together components. Very DIY.<br><br>One of most impactful changes today is ubiquity of onboard compute in off-the-shelf platforms (DJI/Skydio) &amp; SDKs/APIs. <a href="https://t.co/Uvbi5wKPNz">pic.twitter.com/Uvbi5wKPNz</a></p>&mdash; Ian Smith (@SkyCapture) <a href="https://twitter.com/SkyCapture/status/1165299344565841920?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">August 24, 2019</a></blockquote><script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

It cost over $5,500 and I had to source parts from China and painstakingly cobble them together into a final solution. It took 2 months to build.

Now, in 2019, there are drones that literally fly themselves - like this one from a company we love working with, Skydio:

Its systems are all fully-integrated, made entirely in the U.S., and only costs $999. It is, without a doubt, the smartest drone available on the market.

Today's drones pack in a ton of onboard processing power, vision systems, and collision avoidance capabilities. They also have SDKs (software development kits) and APIs (application protocol interfaces) that let us integrate our powerful software on top of them, so we can tell them where to go and what to do.

Warehouse drones shouldn't be expensive

When you think about it, warehouse drones are just collecting data - the same way a mounted security camera collects data. The difference is that with drones, you can freely move the camera around in 3D space, getting it into the high nooks, small crannies, and VNAs (very narrow aisles) that exist in many warehouses. So what warehouse drones really are, are flexible cameras.

Take a look at the pricing of the drones I listed above. Skydio 2 costs only $999 per drone. That's relatively cheap. With Ware, you can deploy an entire fleet of automated Skyio 2's inside of your warehouse and have them automate your inventory tracking with our automation software - all for about the same cost of a single, new forklift (depending on the size of your warehouse and frequency of data collection). Drones today are a commodity.

How to get started with warehouse drones

With Ware, you just give us a call and talk to us so we can learn about your warehouse inventory operation. Then, we'll determine how many drones we'll need to scan all of your warehouse racks or bulk lanes. The number of drones we'll deploy in your warehouse will be based on 2 factors:

  1. The size of your warehouse (we love helping warehouses greater than 100k sq. ft.)
  2. The frequency in which you need full inventory counts (daily, weekly?)

We'll then come to your warehouse, boots-on-the-ground, and implement the solution with you. We believe that our customers are our greatest asset and working closely together, in partnership, is the best path to success.

We love talking about our technology. If you're interested in speaking further about our warehouse drones, drop us a line via email, or call us at 415-890-2020. We're currently prioritizing local, U.S. warehouses that are 100k sq. ft. and larger.