A new startup called Flirtey hopes to turn Australia into a worldwide industry leader for the use of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) in e-commerce deliveries
As countries around the world gradually lift regulations on the use of commercial drones, a new startup called Flirtey hopes to turn Australia into a worldwide industry leader for the use of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) in e-commerce deliveries. Flirtey plans to launch commercial drone delivery of textbooks purchased from Zookal for domestic customers in 2014 before expanding to the U.S. in 2015. The startup says this marks the first use of fully automated commercial zones for package delivery in the world.
Other companies seeking to legitimize drones for commercial use include the U.S.-based 3D Robotics, which recently raised a $30 million Series B round, and Matternet. Flirtey, a joint venture with Zookal, a student services platform, started as a project by engineering students at the University of Sydney and now seeks to test, scale and commercialize UAVs before exporting its technology around the world.
Ahmed Haider, CEO of Zookal and co-founder of Flirtey, says Australia is in a unique position to pioneer the global UAV industry because of regulations by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) designed to encourage adoption of drone technology, as well as the continent’s geography, which ranges from densely populated cities to vast swathes of rural Outback.
Zookal will use Flirtey to send parcels for free and claims deliveries can be made in as little as two or three minutes, compared to two or three days for traditional shipping methods. Upon arrival at an outdoor delivery destination, Flirtey’s drones hover and lower the parcel through a custom delivery mechanism that is attached to a retractable cord. Real-time GPS tracking of each drone’s location will be available through the Flirtey app for smartphones.
One of the reasons Zookal decided to pursue commercial drone deliveries was because of concerns over the cost and performance of parcel shipments as its business grew. Haider says the use of UAVs will cut Zookal’s costs from $8.60 AUD to 80 cents AUD per delivery.
Flirtey’s goal is to present UAVs as a speedier, cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional delivery methods. One of the startup’s biggest challenges, however, is the public perception of drones. In Australia, critics have described the UAVs as a “safety and privacy headache.” Though Congress has required the FAA to come up with legislation that will allow commercial drones by 2015, lawmakers and groups like the American Civil Liberties Union are voicing concerns over the use of drones in aerial surveillance.
To address these issues, Flirtey is currently collaborating with the The Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering, a non-profit research institute, to draft a set of guidelines for the use of commercial drones.
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