Rotolatch™ LLC Announces Launch of Drone Delivery Latching System

The new Rotobird™ system allows drones to autonomously pick up and deliver without landing

August 16, 2023, Portland, Maine – Rotolatch™ LLC today announced the launch of RotoBird™, a drone delivery latching system that allows delivery aircrafts to easily pickup payloads using an automated winch. The new product supplements the company’s existing RotoBear™ line, which is designed for grounded robots. RotoBird™ takes the same technology to the skies by employing winched payload delivery, the most common delivery system used by the drone delivery industry. Drones equipped with RotoBird™ can complete a fully autonomous delivery loop whereby a single drone can complete multiple deliveries without human intervention.

RotoBird™ builds off of Rotolatch’s patented latch pickup technology, which employs a rotating cam lock to secure attachments while in flight without the need for any additional robotics or expensive electrical equipment. The Rotolatch™ securely engages and disengages a package with a unique vertical motion performed by a robot.

“The drone delivery industry has made many exciting advancements in technology to push capabilities, reduce cost, and satisfy stringent safety standards. Nevertheless, the requirement for trained personnel to physically load packages for deliveries limits their profitability to high-value targets, like rural and medical deliveries,” Rotolatch™ founder and inventor Javier Oliver said.  “RotoBird™ provides an inexpensive, elegant solution to the problem of aerial drone pickup and dramatically reduces drone delivery cost.”

Realizing the fully autonomous last mile

Drone delivery companies have largely focused on the final actions of flying to their destination and safely delivering their package. Most companies in the industry manually load their packages on drones before takeoff. Not only does this require time from trained personnel, but it requires drones to land and takeoff between deliveries. Landing takes considerable time, and takeoffs often require pre-flight checks. Several companies have sought solutions to this problem, but their leading solutions are bulky, require loading stations, magnets or electromagnetic locking systems, and/or are unreliable. In contrast, RotoBird™ is small, lightweight, reliable, and scalable.

Oliver demonstrated the effectiveness of RotoBird™ by picking up and dropping off a package using a $299 toy drone in May of 2023, proving that standard delivery drones can completely fully autonomous delivery loops, thus paving the way for a truly autonomous last mile.

“There have been so many exciting breakthroughs and innovations in drone delivery, and I believe that Rotolatch™ provides a key building block for the industry by allowing for affordable, consistent pickup and drop-off,” said Oliver. “I hope others will use these products to build their own fully autonomous delivery loops.”

RotoBird™: Enabling Existing Delivery Drones

RotoBird™ can be easily added to existing drone fleets because it employs the same delivery mechanism that the drone delivery industry has adopted: winch delivery. The innovation of RotoBird™ is that it allows for affordable automated delivery by using gravity and tension to release the package. As the winch lowers the package onto the ground, the tension in the cable is reduced. Once that tension is reduced enough, the locking mechanism releases the package. The winch retracts and the drone can fly elsewhere to prepare for its next delivery. The locking mechanism at the end of the winch does not require or use any electronics or magnets. Part of what makes RotoBird™ special is that it uses this same method to also pickup packages.

Conceivably, a highly accurate drone with a winch system could pick up an isolated package with an affixed RotoHookTM with no further assistance. However, wind and any positional inconsistencies in the drone make targeting a hook within the required 2 centimeters slow and expensive. Rotolatch™ developed the RotoNestTM to reliably align the RotoBird™ to the RotoHookTM. RotoNestTM is a simple, inexpensive, slotted cone with no moving parts or electronics. A drone simply lowers RotoBird™ by its winch onto the cone, flies in the direction of the slot, and then upwards. These simple motions secure the package to RotoBird™.  Next, the drone simply reels the winch, and a receiving mechanism on the winch secures RotoBird™ and fully prevents the latching system from disengaging.

The Road to RotoBird™

Rotolatch™ successfully demonstrated its usefulness for drone pickup in 2020, when an undergraduate team at the University of Texas at Dallas picked up and dropped off a test package with a hobby-level drone. The team simply landed the drone in a landing station, and the Rotolatch™ mechanism self-actuated to lock the package to the drone. After a quick takeoff and short flight, the drone landed on the ground and once again self-actuated to release the package.

The next step was deciding the best mechanism to connect drones to packages. Over the last several years, the drone delivery industry has favored a winched delivery system for safety and practicality. Winches keep the drone further from obstacles, like people, trees, power lines, and animals by lowing the package on a motorized reel while the drone stays mostly stationary. Importantly, they also keep the drone further from the ground, so they can avoid the complexities of “ground effect”. Rotolatch™ set out to tune its latch mechanism to work seamlessly with these winch systems and developed RotoBird™.

“The fully autonomous delivery loop that Rotolatch™ facilitates opens doors,” said Oliver. “Imagine a driver going to deliver a heavy package to one home while a drone flies lighter packages to nearby homes. This kind of system would directly save the driver and the truck time and miles, thus reducing current delivery costs and emissions. The technology is here, now we just need to implement it.”

About Rotolatch™ LLC

Rotolatch™ LLC is a technology startup that has been developing a self-actuating mechanical latch for use with robots. Rotolatch™ is now looking for partners in the drone delivery industry to embrace the full capabilities of an autonomous delivery loop and pilot RotoBird™ with their existing delivery system. Prospective partners of Rotolatch™ can rely on a robust patent portfolio with various issued and pending patents dating back to 2012.