Drones to deliver parcels in Australia starting in March

Zookal partners with Flirtey to fly textbooks to university students
The drones will deliver textbooks in the Sydney CBD. Credit: The PR Group

The drones will deliver textbooks in the Sydney CBD. Credit: The PR Group

The drones are coming... and they’re carrying textbooks.

Zookal has today announced a partnership with Flirtey that will see the textbook rental startup company employing drones to deliver parcels in Australia starting this March. It will be the first use of fully automated commercial drones in the world, the companies said.

Flirtey itself is a joint venture between Zookal and software company Vimbra. The company’s co-founders are Zookal CEO Ahmed Haider and Vimbra CEO Matthew Sweeny.

Delivery by drone will be free and will send parcels directly to an outdoor location of the user’s choice, with the drone’s GPS coordinates provided to the user through a smartphone app.

Zookal will start with six drones operating in a 3km area of the Sydney CBD, she said. A test flight is planned for November at the University of Sydney. Zookal said delivery will take as little as two to three minutes from the time the package is sent.

The Flirtey app, which is required for delivery, will at first only be available to Android smartphone users, but the company plans to release apps for other smartphones after the maiden voyage, Sweeny told Techworld Australia.

Flirtey Zookal flight from The PR Group on Vimeo.

The co-founders of Flirtey say drone delivery will save time and money for the business. Same-day delivery by Flirtey costs a business only $2.99 per parcel, compared to up to $29.95 for traditional same-day postal delivery.

“Parcel delivery is an important part of any ecommerce business and it is a core part of ours,” Haider said. “We recognised that as the business grew, the current options would be unsustainable from a cost and performance perspective.

“This joint venture with Flirtey gives us an opportunity to provide a significantly faster and more efficient delivery of goods while reducing our ecological footprint and costs. We expect the use of drones will cut our delivery costs from $8.60 to 80 [cents] per delivery, and because they are battery powered, the environmental impact is minimal.”

A more relaxed regulatory environment toward commercial drones in Australia means the country will be first to get the service. Flirtey and Zookal plan to bring drone delivery to the US in 2015.

“As one of the few countries in the world to allow commercial drone activities, Australia is uniquely placed to create a new drone industry and shape the development of regulations in this space,” said Haider.

Flirtey is in the process of seeking regulatory approval with Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). The company is also working with the Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering at the University of Sydney on a project to, among other things, publish a protocol for the operation of drones that could be the basis for a voluntary industry code of conduct.

Getting there

The Flirtey drones use GPS and custom-built collision avoidance technology to safely deliver a package to the intended recipient. The drone lifts, calculates a route and drops a parcel with no human interaction or remote controlling involved.

The recipient can track the drone on their smartphone and step outside when it arrives. The drone waits for a short period of time. If the user misses it, the order can be placed again, said Sweeny.

When the drone arrives, the recipient must press “Lower package” on the smartphone app. The delivery mechanism lowers the parcel based on the location of the smartphone. These processes ensure the parcel is delivered to the right person, said Sweeny.

The drone continues to hover when making the delivery, lowering the parcel to the customer without having to leave its hovering height. If the recipient applies force to the drone’s lowering cord, the parcel is designed to break free without damage to the drone.

The drones are electric-powered using rechargeable lithium polymer batteries. The current model can fly 3 km, allowing deliveries in most CBDs, and carry up to 2 kg. Flirtey expects to increase both limits in future versions of the technology.

For greater safety, the Flirtey drone is built so that it can still land after losing a batter or rotor.

However, the drones are not yet immune to weather, said Sweeny. “Flirteys currently operate in summer weather, which is one reason that Sydney is a great city to pilot the technology. Flirtey is working on weather proofing our UAVs for all conditions, rain, hail or shine.”

Zookal says the drone sidesteps potential privacy problems by not including a camera. “The Flirtey can find your exact location, but it can't actually see you.”

Adam Bender covers startup and business tech issues for Techworld and is the author of a dystopian novel about surveillance. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Techworld Australia on Twitter: @Techworld_AU

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More about: University of Sydney, University of Sydney
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Comments

Gordon Drennan

1

Yeah, sure, and there'll be electric car recharging and battery swap stations all over Australia by 2013.

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