An Australian start-up “Flirtey” plans to start commercial courier deliveries by drone.
If regulatory approval is done, from March next year students will be able to order books from Zookal, a textbook rental company via an Android smartphone app and have one of six Flirtey drones deliver them to their door in Sydney. As the drone arrives, students will be able to track it in real-time on a Google map.
After its initial launch, Flirtey hopes to then expand the service to other products and locations, even seeing potential to deliver food and drinks to people and blood to and from blood banks and hospitals in future.
If Flirtey gets the approval of Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) it will be the first use of fully automated commercial drones for deliveries in the world.
Ahmed Haider, CEO of Zookal and co-founder of Flirtey, says Australia is in a unique position to pioneer the global UAV industry because of regulations by the CASA designed to encourage adoption of drone technology, as well as the continent’s geography, which ranges from densely populated cities to vast swathes of rural Outback.
Zookal will use Flirtey to send parcels for free and claims deliveries can be made in as little as two or three minutes, compared to two or three days for traditional shipping methods. Upon arrival at an outdoor delivery destination, Flirtey’s drones hover and lower the parcel through a custom delivery mechanism that is attached to a retractable cord. Real-time GPS tracking of each drone’s location will be available through the Flirtey app for smartphones.
Haider and Flirtey co-founder Matthew Sweeny say that several safeguards have been built into Flirtey’s UAVs, including “collision avoidance technology” to prevent them from crashing into trees, buildings or birds; a mechanism that forces drones to hover and then land slowly if it loses signal range or experiences technical failure; and the ability to override autonomous operation and allow a person to take control. Flirtey’s commercial drones don’t have cameras in order to prevent privacy intrusions.
Haider is hopeful that UAVs will close the gap between innovation in e-commerce and the logistics industry, which has used the same delivery methods for decades.
“Textbooks are an excellent way to test the market as they allow for varying weights,” he says. “With the concentration of students in universities in Australia, we will have proof of concept that shows if you can deliver a textbook, then things such as urgent medical deliveries, clothes, shoes, fast food and other e-commerce will be much more viable
CASA confirmed it had been corresponding with Zookal but an application had not yet been lodged.
Melbourne’s Metropolitan Fire Brigade already uses drones to survey emergency situations and is one of the 56 operators in Australia who have a licence to operate one.
Flirtey founder Matt Sweeny said he came up with the idea of using drones while in China where his McDonald’s orders were delivered via bicycle “in moments”.
Should CASA not approve delivery directly to homes, Sweeny said designated “drop off” areas, in places such as parks, might become Plan B.