By Dave Avran
THE saying pie in the sky means something that is pleasant to contemplate but is very unlikely to be realised.
But thanks to digital technology, it is now a reality in, of all places on earth, Iceland. It is now one of the few countries in the world to have launched a delivery service using drones, aimed at online shoppers in Reykjavik.
Drone company Flytrex has partnered AHA, one of Iceland’s biggest e-commerce companies, to offer the service, flying ordered items over one of the city’s wide waterways to dramatically reduce the delivery time done the conventional way.
A video posted online this week shows the drone zipping from one side of the river to a customer on the other side. The journey by road usually takes a driver 25 minutes but because a drone can take a more direct route, this delivery took only four minutes.
So why the drones, you ask? Well, if you look at Reykjavik, it’s full of bays and difficult traffic routes, so if it’s only a two-kilometre distance by air, a road trip may mean seven kilometres.
With drones able to reach some destinations far more quickly than cars, you might think a few job losses are on the way for delivery drivers in Iceland, but AHA insists the drones will operate alongside its vehicle-based network, thereby increasing its daily delivery capacity.
Flytrex and AHA are using a DJI Matrice 600 drone for the service, attaching a large box to its base to hold a customer’s order. This particular DJI drone, a hexacopter with a top speed of 65 kph, can carry a payload of up to 13 pounds, which is a lot of pizza indeed.
The service is touted as the first-ever drone delivery system in an urban environment, though that appears to be stretching it a bit. There’s no indication that its flying machines are dropping off orders at addresses on busy streets, but the effort at least highlights how an increasing number of businesses are experimenting with the technology.
Dropping items off across waterways seems like a sensible alternative to sending a van out on a longer run. While many companies, including Amazon, would like to get similar drone services up and running, most regulators are still not convinced it’s ok to fly the machines out of the line of sight of either pilots or those monitoring autonomous flights.
Similarly, Domino’s in New Zealand conducted trials of pizza delivery by drone for several weeks and is now awaiting permission from the government to run further trials. A branch of Domino’s Pizza about 10 miles north of central Auckland had sent out its first drone carrying piping hot pizza to an actual paying customer.
The flying pizza service was launched for select customers. I’m not sure how exactly they were selected but I guess they must eat a lot of pizzas, live close to this particular Domino’s outlet and are cool with a drone delivering their dinner. In fact, Domino’s said a recent survey it conducted showed that 70 per cent of Kiwis would be more than happy to have their pizza flown in by a quadcopter.
The new delivery service has been made possible, thanks in part to Flirtey, a drone delivery specialist. Flirtey’s specially designed delivery drone is made from carbon fibre, aluminium and 3D printed components. Lightweight and autonomous, the flying machine lowers its hot and tasty cargo outside a customer’s home via a tether.
The quad’s built-in safety features include low-battery, return-to-safe-location programming, and auto-return-home commands in case of a low GPS signal or communication loss. Domino’s had to secure regulatory approval to launch the aerial delivery service and now hopes to take it to more locations across the country in the coming months.
In the meantime I’m anxiously waiting for Malaysia’s nasi lemak tetek to launch their drone delivery service.