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Need emergency medicine, better phone drone: Cambridge firm unveils new tech breakthrough

Blade Runner 2049

With Blade Runner 2049 in the cinemas, wowing audiences with it's vision of future cities, replete with replicants, flying cars, holograms and mind-bending technology, a little bit of science fiction has now become fact.

Scientists in Cambridge have created the first-ever drone that tracks your movements and winches down packages to directly into your hands.

The patented invention by Cambridge Consultants is a "proof of concept" for a vision of the future where emergency first aid and supplies can be delivered on demand in minutes.

Amazon has lead the way in drone delivery

The city is fast becoming a world leader in developing this technology.

Online retail giant Amazon carried out the world's first delivery using drone last year.

And it has also patented a move to deliver parcels by parachute.

Since then the company has announced it is expanding its research division in Cambridge, boosting investment in machine learning and other development programmes.

The online firm, which already has one base in the city, will open another site near the train station with the capacity for over 400 employees to be based there as part of the company's commitment to developing drone technology.

Amazon's parachute delivery patent

Now the researchers at Cambridge Consultants have created a prototype called DelivAir drone, which offers a delivery service without the need of a home address. Instead it uses technology.

A flashing LED beacon from their phone then sends a coded message for the octocopter to winch down a package on a 30m-long tether directly into their hands.

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"It's really all looking towards a future where small items are almost as accessible as emails. There's no one really trying to address technically the problem of placing them directly in your hand which is what we feel is an all important feature for the market. It's a real thrill to summon an item with a button on my iPhone and shortly afterwards pluck it out of the air directly in front of me. The system is as close as we'll get to instantaneous matter transportation in our lifetimes."

– Henry Fletcher, senior engineer

A spokesman said Cambridge Consultants expected British law would allow DelivAirs, which can carry just over 1kg of weight, being sold commercially within years.

He said their drone can deliver packages 15 minutes from launch but British laws currently bar drones from being flown above or in built-up areas.

"We can see the day where legislation allows for this kind of development, so we see this as a medium term development."

Referring to Amazon's drone home delivery service, he added: "There's no reason why it would significantly more expensive than current drone technology is now.

"There's lots to be proven around the safety of drones but I think it's likely that the safety issues will systematically resolved within years."

The DelivAir prototype tracks a user's smartphone using GPS. Once in range it switches to receiving coded location updates from the phone's flashing LED light.

Cambridge Consultants is now working on putting a second LED tracker on the package to allow it to be hand-delivered in windy conditions.

They hope their invention will be used to deliver first aid kits during natural disasters and life-saving gear such as an EpiPen or a defibrillator during an medical emergency.

Watch a video explaining the new concept below: