Logo: University of Southern California

Drones Could Do It All

John Gunnar Carlsson is awarded the Air Force Office of Scientific Research award for his work with drones
By: Natalia Velez
November 25, 2015 —

Professor John Carlsson's latest work focuses on resource distribution using drones. (Image: Courtesy of John Carlsson)
The distribution of resources is important to engineering problems, especially to those that have some geographic component. For the military, for instance, few things are as important as strong surveillance to identify where possible threats are.

Recently, the use of drones as observation vehicles has become increasingly popular. However, when a drone is assigned to monitor a given region, it is crucial to come up with an algorithm that makes sure it goes to the right places.

USC Viterbi Assistant Professor John Carlsson is tackling this issue. His latest work, which focuses on resource distribution using drones, recently received the prestigious Air Force Office of Scientific Research award, granted only to 42 scientists and engineers in research institutions across the U.S.

“ 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.”

John Carlsson

Apart from threat surveillance, Carlsson’s work has other applications, especially in commerce. Companies like Amazon are already exploring package delivery that uses drones. If we think about an order that is too heavy for a drone to carry in one trip, 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 (UAVs), we are at the beginning of the era of using drones in commercial applications,” said Mehdi Behroozi, a USC Viterbi Ph.D. student working in 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.”

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,” said Carlsson. “If you launch the drones from trucks in movement, that would optimize the process.”

As part of the AFOSR grant, Carlsson hopes that 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 Ph.D. students, and am currently developing a drone-launching project for my undergraduate students.” Carlsson said.