Drone delivery has taken another small step toward becoming a reality, thanks to a new trial taking place in Iceland. Israeli drone logistics company Flytrex has partnered with Icelandic on-demand goods service AHA to set up a small drone delivery route in Reykjavík.
Flytrex doesn’t make drones. Instead, it’s spent the past few years working on solving for the rest of the drone delivery equation. That involves working with local regulators (Icelandic Transport Authority, or Icetra, in this scenario), training employees, and most importantly, building a cloud-based network that the entire drone delivery system runs on.
As with most early drone delivery trial runs, there’s a catch: there’s only one delivery route right now, and the drone is currently only part of the equation. What Flytrex and AHA are doing is using a hexacopter (a modified DJI Matrice 600) to deliver food or other products directly across a bay of the North Atlantic Ocean that delivery drivers normally have to skirt around. Basically, someone at the AHA facility loads the delivery up on the drone, it skips over the bay, and the delivery person takes it from there. Deliveries that would have normally taken more than half an hour can now be made in a matter of minutes.
The initial trial is really limited, and still needs human help
Flytrex modified the Matrice with a cargo compartment, and the drone can carry packages up to three kilograms in weight for up to about six miles (or 10 kilometers), though it will only need to go about two during this initial trial. That’s not a lot, but it’s perfect for the kinds of on-demand goods that AHA deals with, like sushi, hamburgers, or even beer. Yariv Bash, the CEO of Flytrex, tells The Verge that he thinks of the company as “drone agnostic,” meaning it will be able to incorporate more capable drones as they hit the market.
AHA and Flytrex will start with about 20 or so of these deliveries a day, according to Bash, and he hopes to expand the partnership with AHA to include actual drone deliveries along multiple routes across Reykjavík by the end of this year. At that point, the drones will deliver straight to people’s yards or doorsteps. It won’t land, like some other companies have proposed with their delivery drone tests. Instead, Bash says it will lower the deliveries to the ground using a wire.
Flytrex is calling this the “world’s first fully operational autonomous drone delivery system,” but that claim isn’t right; Amazon has made a few commercial drone deliveries in the UK, and Flirtey has completed a few dozen in the US for 7-Eleven. And Flytrex’s system isn’t actually fully autonomous, since it still relies on a human to complete the delivery.
But Bash thinks the advantage Flytrex has over the competition in this space is that it’s selling a full stack solution. If you’re a commercial operation that wants to get into drone delivery, Flytrex is ready to provide the drones, the cloud system, the software, the training, and the maintenance. It will also help you work with local regulators to get approval. Maybe that will be enough to make Flytrex a player in what could be a big part of the delivery economy. At the very least, it’s going to help fill a few Icelandic stomachs at a faster clip.