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Japan takes a big step toward widespread drone delivery service

Japan takes a big step toward widespread drone delivery service


Rakuten and AirMap are forming a joint venture for unmanned aerial traffic management

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Japan, perhaps more than any nation on Earth, has a deep history with autonomous drones. Its companies have been using them for decades to assist with agriculture, infrastructure inspection, and construction. Today one of Japan’s biggest tech companies, Rakuten, announced it was forming a joint venture with the American startup AirMap. The goal is to develop a robust traffic management system for unmanned aerial vehicles, allowing large numbers of drones to operate autonomously in the same airspace.

Rakuten, which is best known as an e-commerce company, has been experimenting with drone delivery since June of last year. Like Amazon, it wants to enable customers to order something online and have it delivered to their doorstep, or windowsill, in under an hour. The company sees low-altitude airspace as a wide-open market, where the only competition comes from birds and radio waves.

AirMap recently disclosed a $26 million round of funding led by Microsoft Ventures. The company is using that cash to open new offices in California and Germany, and is already planning for the day when its mapping technology could be used to help a variety of different autonomous vehicles navigate safely through low-altitude airspace, including flying cars.