It seems that the complications behind drone delivery logistics are finally being solved in the United States of America. For several years now, there have been promises of being able to receive goods via drones in the US. For the most part, these promises have been left unfulfilled with the exception of a few towns or communities running drone delivery trials. Meanwhile, there are cities elsewhere in the world that have shown that having a safe working drone delivery program is fully feasible. But in the wake of the global pandemic, the coronavirus, that may all be changing soon. As Michael Zahra, CEO of Drone Delivery Canada said, “In the past, the response to a pandemic or other disaster was to wait and then figure out what to do. I think we have learned from this pandemic that you need to have the infrastructure in place on standby just in case. When the dust settles, the coronavirus will raise the profile for drone logistics in general and raise the profile for drones as a use case in times of crisis.”
ABI Research, a company that focuses on strategic technological planning, predicts that the drone delivery industry will be worth $414 million by 2021, climbing $10.4 billion within ten years from now. Last month the Israeli drone company Flytrex announced that they will be launching a drone delivery program in the United States to help address the current need for social distancing and quarantining. While established in Tel Aviv in 2013, it wasn’t until 2016 that Flytrex launched their drone delivery system in Reykjavik, Iceland. As the company states, it wasn’t long before they “became the leading competitor in the race to deploy a true on-demand delivery service via autonomous vehicles.”
Reykjavik was an ideal place to start their on demand drone delivery program because of the geological make up of the city. As the city is crisscrossed with waterways, awaiting deliveries from local eateries could often take far longer than the wait was worth. Flytrex drones are able to bypass these barriers, traveling 32 mph at an altitude of 230 ft, they can cover a distance of around 6 miles in minutes. The drones can withstand inclement weather as well. A feat that would not be possible by road travel for many situations. The custom built drones normally carry a load of around 2lbs, about the weight of a few drinks and burgers, but are capable of carrying a load of up to 6.6 lbs. The drones can support this weight load because they are simply a secure carrying case that can fly. There is no camera on the drone for added weight, and this also eliminates any privacy concerns. When the drone reaches it programed destination the carry case is lowered on a tether from a safe height of 80 ft. Once the case is emptied, the tether recoils and the drone returns to base.
With a successful model in Reykjavik, Flytrex next set up an operation at the King’s Walk Golf Course in Grand Forks, North Dakota. The golf course partnered with the drone company to replace the use of a snack and beverage cart that golfers would get impatient when waiting on it to arrive. “Using Flytrex’s drone delivery system,” Flytrex’s website explains, “golfers can now order their desired snacks and drinks and receive them to their exact location on the course, within minutes. Whether it’s a hot burger or an ice-cold soda, the Flytrex drone will deliver your order in perfect condition, faster than ever before.” However, with the growing need to accommodate social distancing Flytrex has formed a new partnership with the city of Grand Forks, and the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation.
Flytrex has set up a distribution center across the street from the Grand Forks Walmart Supercenter. The drones will be able to make deliveries straight to the backyards of those who subscribe to the service. The service will be in full compliance of all FAA regulations and in cooperation with the Northern Plains Unmanned Aerial System Test Site. Many local food stores now have a set minimum order around $35 for home deliveries. Though Flytrex has not publicly announced how much their service will cost, they do have a maximum weight limit of 6.6 lbs, so it may be necessary to have multiple deliveries made to fulfill a single order. They plan on making deliveries of food and medications, items that are small enough to fit in the drones case. In other words, though a large package of toilet paper may fit the weight requirements, it will not fit in the basket.
Flytrex has not yet begun sending out their drones as last minute details are still being worked out. They aim to begin the service in the next few weeks. “In this time of crisis and social distancing, drones provide the ideal solution to bolster delivery capacity while keeping citizens safe at home,” said Flytrex CEO Yariv Bash. “UAVs offer safe, swift and efficient delivery of much needed goods with no risk of unnecessary human contact for consumers. We hope this initiative will alleviate hardships for as many of the people of Grand Forks as possible and help keep them safe and provided for.” The hope is that soon the pandemic will be over and people can safely venture out to do their own shopping. But, for the time being, drones can solve the issue of say an elderly person having to run to Walmart for some basic supplies during these uncertain times. Yariv went on to say, “Following our launch in Grand Forks, with the continuing cooperation of local authorities and the FAA, we aim to expand our drone delivery service to help citizens in other areas of the town, the state, and the entire country – as quickly as possible.”