Japan tests drones for home delivery

Drones Turn Into Delivery Boys In Japan

Home delivery will never be the same again.

Japan has started to test out drones as “delivery boys” in the country’s Chiba prefecture, a first-of-its-kind initiative in an urban area.

The trial run – or rather, flight – saw drones loaded with delivery goods flying between shopping malls, nearby parks and apartment buildings.

The demo was kicked off on the rooftop of Aeon Mall Makuhari Shintoshin, a massive shopping centre in Chiba, reported Asahi Shimbun. A bottle of wine was loaded onto a drone, and then the aircraft was sent flying. The drone landed safely at its target destination, a nearby park. The wine bottle was reported to be in good shape, with not a scratch on it.

Next, the drone successfully delivered a medicine package on the rooftop of a 10-storey building.

The drone trial is a collaborative effort involving the government, Chiba city, and ACSL, the drone company that has developed the drone used in the trial.

In fact, in December the city of Chiba was designated as a special zone for drone development, freeing it up from the rules governing drones in other parts of the country.

This move was in keeping with Prime Minister Shinzō Abe’s promise to industry groups in November to speed up drone-based parcel delivery mechanisms.

“We will aim to make parcel delivery by drone a reality, as soon as three years from now. For this purpose the government will immediately establish the Public-Private Council, in which users and the relevant ministries and agencies will discuss the specific structural and systemic requirements.”

According to a Japan Times report, the city of Chiba plans to launch a full-fledged drone-based parcel delivery service around the time the country hosts the Olympic in 2020.

To aid this plan, the city wants its upcoming condominiums and highrises to have, on each of their balconies, a “landing area” for drones.

The drone trial is also a sort of R&D exercise that will help the drone builders fine-tune their machines, ensuring that the drones work smoothly, even in adverse weather conditions. It will also help in setting up a “traffic control” for drones, a system that makes sure drones do not collide with each other or with other flying objects in the sky (or even with static objects like electric poles, wires, etc).

This drone trial is not the first one in Japan. In February, drones were tested in the rural areas of Tokushima prefecture too, according to another Japan Times report. The aim of this experimental demo was to deliver food parcels to elderly citizens living in sparsely populated regions.

As old people living in remote areas have difficulties going shopping, the drone trial saw essential food items such as bread, milk and eggs being flown to them.

A government official had explained to Japan Times the potential benefits of this exercise.

“[Delivery drones] would address the shortage of delivery truck drivers, reduce time and costs, and be a relief for seniors in thinly populated areas who have become shopping refugees.”

The idea of utilizing drones for home delivery has been around for a while now. Amazon unveiled its plans in this area in 2013 itself, coming up with Amazon Prime Air, a drone delivery system that is currently in development. It has set for itself the ambitious target of delivering packages to customers within 30 minutes of their ordering them online. It also claims to have developed a “sense-and-avoid” technology for its drones, something that will enable the drones to “see” obstacles and then “avoid” them. Take a look at this video that charts the entire process of drone home delivery.

[Image via Shutterstock / Alexey Yuzhakov]

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