Almost four years ago, Jeff Bezos – the CEO of Amazon – went on 60 Minutes and unveiled his vision of having fulfillment drones deliver packages right to customers’ door steps. Ideally, this could occur within 30 minutes of the order.
Mr. Bezos speculated it that might take four or five years to get things right and win the proper government approvals. He professed optimism. “It will work, and it will happen, and it’s gonna be a lot of fun,” he said.
The idea that drones could be used for deliveries was not far-fetched, but that fulfillment drones could deliver goods right to a customer’s door is still many, many years away.
Fulfillment Drones, What is Real?
Last week, the Drone technology company Flytrex, in partnership with AHA, Iceland’s largest online marketplace, announced the official launch of the world’s first operational on-demand urban drone delivery service. The CEO of Flytrex, Yariv Bash stressed that “This is a working system, not a one-off wonder.”
Following regulatory approval from the Icelandic Transport Authority (Icetra), Flytrex and AHA received approval to implement their autonomous drone system to deliver food and consumer products from shops and restaurants on one side of Reykjavik to a designated point across the city. The new drone logistics system will allow direct delivery between two parts of the city separated by a large bay. The drone can do in four minutes what it takes a car 25 minutes to do in heavy traffic. The drone lands in an empty field near the designated neighborhood where it is met by a courier. The courier than walks, if the customer’s home is close enough, or drives a short way, to make the final delivery to the doorstep.
The payload is 3 kilograms, about 6 and a half pounds. Currently one delivery at a time is being done, but multiple deliveries are possible; and it is possible for the drone’s controller to be flying several drones at the same time.
In the US, drones are required to have an operator in the line of sight of the drone. This delivery service is based on deliveries outside the line of sight. This was accomplished through a stringent regulatory process where the drones have a designated flight path that is closed to airplanes and other drones. The drone’s operator maintains contact with the control tower, if a plane is drifting into the drone’s flight path, the operator is notified and he will prevent any other take offs.
As a next stage, Flytrex will deliver to a customer’s back yard. The delivery will be part of the same flight path to the neighborhood that has been approved by the Icetra, but with new map coordinates added that specify the location of the back yard. The drone will hover 50 to 60 feet in air, and then lower the product to the end consumer. Logistics are coordinated based on a smartphone. The consumer will have visuals showing the estimated time of arrival and the drones current location. When the drone arrives at the destination, the customer is notified and the drone hovers above the destination until the customer acknowledges that they are ready to accept the delivery. When the customer presses the “accept delivery” button, the goods are lowered to the ground.
Flytrex Drone Delivery System
It should be noted that Flytrex is not a drone manufacturer. In fact, they are drone agnostic. What they have produced is a cloud-based drone management system. The entire system includes functionality that allows the operator to communicate with the drone, smart phone enablement for estimated times of arrival and delivery activation, integration into the shipper’s logistics systems, and communication with the aviation regulatory agency.
When I asked about Jeff Bezos’ vision of delivering right to a customer’s doorstep, Mr. Bash responded “these devices are too dangerous to be near untrained humans.”
In conclusion, while the Amazon vision of delivery right to the doorstep remains untenable, Mr. Bezo’s stake in the ground did lead startups to invest in drones. What we see with last week’s announcement is the first ongoing drone delivery service in an urban area.