Flytrex drones were the first in Iceland to air-drop products and supplies. Now AHA, one of Iceland’s largest eCommerce companies, has taken on Amazon with basic drones bearing burgers using a Chinese-made drone and an Israeli logistics system to deliver hot food, groceries, and electronics to households in Iceland’s capital city of Reykjavik.
It’s a world’s first, and one that flouts the standard aviation safety mantras. These drones are not fitted with any sensors to avoid obstacles nor do they have cameras, radar, or any other imaging systems. They fly according to GPS coordinates, along routes certified free of trees, buildings, and other impediments. And with some 500 deliveries completed in the past five months, no injuries have been reported!
The modus operandi starts with a user punching in their order into an app on their Smartphone and Aha’s cook loads the food onto the drone. Then the client tracks the delivery, locates it, and if all’s well at the drop-off point accepts it. Then the drone lowers those hot burgers on a line and buzzes home.
A delivery is around US $7. That’s enough to cover operational costs, says Maron Kristófersson, the chief executive officer of Aha. A delivery can be completed in as little as 4 minutes, versus 25 minutes when delivering by road, under heavy traffic. Aha’s drone delivery service operates until 7 p.m. in Reykjavik on days that are not too windy, too snowy, or too rainy.
Kristófersson began exploring autonomous delivery schemes in 2014 as an alternative to skyrocketing labour costs. But drone companies anticipating Iceland’s tiny market weren’t too enthusiastic initially.
In 2015, he contacted Flytrex, a Tel Aviv startup that was selling GPS trackers to drone companies. Flytrex developed a logistics system based on those trackers rather than making a drone of its own. Aha got the go-ahead after negotiations with Icelandic authorities and the first experimental deliveries came earlier this year.
Aha is using the DJI Matrice 600 weighs 15 kg fully loaded including 3 kg cargo. It can fly 8 km a 4 km route one way covering the outer ring of Reykjavik from Aha’s operations centre in the middle of town. To minimize potential risks sortie routes are updated constantly considering new construction and drones are mostly directed over water and unpopulated industrial areas.
Initially, the drones arrived at a dozen or so set drop-off points with a company representative designated to receive the drone and pull the package out of a cargo compartment. Then, in August, the company got permission to lower packages on a line to select homes. “It can drop a package almost on a carpet in your backyard,” says Yariv Bash of Flytrex.
Flying blind is not approves in many countries around the world, the FAA in United States for example has recently allowed test flights, including one by Wing, a subsidiary of Alphabet (Google’s parent company), to go farther than the operator can see with unaided sight.