This week we’ve seen plenty of coverage around drones in the startup space. Zookal – a startup fast becoming a dominant player in Australia’s textbook rental market – have caused an international media storm following the announcement that they’ll be partnering with delivery drone startup Flirtey to fulfil their order processes. It’s been a brilliant story for the company, resulting in a lot of great PR; and there’s no denying that the concept is exciting and innovative.
Zookal are great at generating newsworthy stories about themselves; and this one comes just days before the team meets with US investors to open up a series B capital raise. Co-Founder of Zookal, Ahmed Haider, is also the Co-Founder of Flirtey along with Matt Sweeney; and there is no denying the pair are onto something with the new delivery technology.
However, I feel we’ve had a case of premature media ejaculation.
When we received the release about the Zookal-Flirtey collaboration, I was working on a similar story about another Australian startup that had intended to reveal this delivery technology using a different drone company at this month’s Tech23 Conference. And I was already in dialogue with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), being educated on their rules when it comes to operating Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS).
When it comes to media coverage around new and exciting things, perception can often become the reader’s reality; and a few of the statements made within the media pieces over the last week have certainly done that. For instance saying that it is legal to fly a commercial drone under 122 metres as stated in BRW’s coverage is true if you have gone through the process of obtaining a license for your RPAS, are tracking it’s flight path and a host of other strict requirements. Yesterday, a spokesperson for CASA confirmed with shoestring.com.au that “Zookal has not made an application to CASA to operate the Flirtey remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS) and conduct operations of the type outlined in recent media coverage”.
Likewise, stating that an operation which is dependent on so many factors will be working by March next year, (as mentioned in multiple publications) when the reality is not guaranteed, also leads readers to believe everything is a done deal. I do get the startup ‘commit to a date and make it happen’ philosophy, but when you do that publicly, you really need to make sure you have your boxes ticked.
That said, Zookal and Flirtey are working closely at the moment with The Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering and the team have established a working group so they can go through the process of applying for a RPAS registration. We have been informed that this working group is in dialogue with other sectors of CASA, with the focus being on ticking all boxes within the application to the standards required in order to make sure their application isn’t rejected.
CASA confirms that when it comes to assessing applications everything is based on certain merits; and under Part 101 of the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 1998 they need to take note about certain RPAS restrictions when it comes to operating in controlled areas, populous areas and proximity to persons. When it comes to flying over areas of water and the harbour, Maritime NSW have confirmed with shoestring.com.au that there are currently no rules in place regarding minimum heights and that even when crossing water at a low height it is CASA’s territory to govern.
Currently there are 57 people or organisations that are approved to operate RPAS in Australia, and at this moment there are a further 23 applications being assessed by CASA. By the end of this year CASA estimates there will be 80 license holders which will be a 140-percent increase on the early-2013 figure. It will be interesting to see if Zookal and Flirtey are on that list, giving them three months to then start planning the commercial side of how everything will look for their proposed March ‘go live’ date.
I love exciting stories about disruptive, innovative people, but Zookal and Flirtey have gotten very lucky here going to the media before having their ducks lined up in a row. They could’ve had some investigative pieces written around the topic, which may have painted their business in a different light. Or maybe the blame lies with the journalists that ran out of the gate too fast without asking enough questions in the race to get an exciting global story out there. Either way, well-played Zookal.
An Exclusive Scoop
In the coming days, Flirtey will be making an announcement about another formal partnership with Sydney-based geo-location startup Geepers. The team at Geepers are keen on playing an intimate role in positioning themselves as a startup for startups. Their technology allows people to develop applications that need to use, rely on, track, geography and location-based information.
Founder, David Whitfield stated that Geepers is excited by this opportunity. “As a start-up with a globally disruptive technology, we were excited by the Flirtey business model. Partnering early with another Sydney-born technology company is exciting, not just because of the validation of the Geepers platform but because we believe Flirtey will be beside us on the world stage in the near future.”
Whitfield added, “Geepers will provide the flight tracking and recording technology for Flirtey, but more importantly, we will provide a platform that shows where the package recipient is in real time. This fits in with our vision to provide a platform that is both social and practical – allowing our online purchases to find us at work, at home or where ever we may be. The Geepers platform will inform the Flirtey UAV where the recipient is. The UAV can then assess the environment and if it is deemed unacceptable, message the recipient to inform them of a near-by alterntive delivery point.”
Geepers allows users to create a user profile and then add multiple locations where they frequent. For example:
I can also create a matbeeche.NOW location so people can know where I am at that very second; and using this platform in the backend of something like Flirtey is where the technology makes the world of delivery step up a notch. Geepers uses longitude and latitude and height to track people – for instance, if I ordered a textbook and I’m on the 9th floor of a building, Flirty would know that is exactly where I am. It would also see that there is no way to get into the building through the window; and so, through Geepers, it would send me an automatic text giving me a safe location, saying that I should go to downstairs to meet the drone and pick up my delivery. Actual addresses become irrelevant information of my location can be found whether I am at a house or walking in the Blue Mountains.
Having seen this technology first-hand, I have to say that Flirtey teaming up with them is a very smart move. David Whitfield, founder of Geepers will be presenting at Tech23 on the 28th.