News & Analysis

Australia Post to trial delivery by drone

- April 18, 2016 3 MIN READ

Australia Post has announced it is trialling drone technology to commercially deliver parcels to customers’ homes. The delivery service will be the first major parcel and logistics company in Australia to use Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), or drones, to provide customers with faster delivery.

Australia Post Managing Director and Group CEO Ahmed Fahour believes drones are another way to build upon the company’s existing products as it looks to compete in the rapidly changing delivery landscape.

He said, “Australia Post has been adapting to changing customer needs and new technological advancements for over 200 years. This trial is another exciting example of how we’re looking to the future with emerging technologies to make life easier for our customers.”

The company stated the closed-field drone testing will help Australia Post understand what it can potentially deliver, how far it can travel, and how customers would receive a parcel. A potential application which has been looked at elsewhere around the world is the delivery of critical items such as medication to remote rural areas.

“RPA technology will continue to evolve over the coming years and while we’re not sure what role it will play in our future, we do think there are opportunities for time-critical deliveries or where there are significant distances between the road and front door,” said Fahour.

Australia Post is working with ARI Labs, a startup focused on automation and robotics, to develop the drone technology and demonstrate the reliability and application of innovative delivery experiences.

Later this year a customer trial is expected to follow the closed-field trial to assess how drone technology can be used for commercial purposes.

“At the heart of our approach to innovation is our passion to help Australian businesses take advantage of the eCommerce boom, while delivering choice and convenience for consumers,” said Fahour.

As these trials look to the future, consumers and tech startups wait for the Government to change regulations on urban drone delivery. Despite 2016 supposedly being the year of the drone, Australia has yet to see the green light on the commercialisation of this technology. Australia is far behind Europe and the US, who have already undergone droneport constructions, or airports for drones, which are set to designate air traffic corridors and open up civil airspace for RPAs.

In the last few years Europe has proven to be the most progressive with their ideas on commercialisation and drone regulation. There are more than 2,500 registered operators of drones in the EU, which is a figure that far exceeds the rest of the world, with a reported 2,342 operators flying the rest of the drones worldwide. The US is slowly catching on and by 2020 looks to have 15,000 registered operators using drones for personal and commercial purposes.

Earlier this year Nevada, USA was set up to become the first of six commercial airports for drones in the country, with the Federal Aviation Administration giving the go ahead for Nevada to be the first testing site, acknowledging the worldwide appeal of this technology.

While there are several Australian startups working on drone technology, the Government’s reluctance to adapt legislation has seen leaders such as Flirtey look elsewhere to further their development.

As well as testing deliveries by drone in New Zealand, Flirtey has already completed an urban drone delivery in US FAA-approved air spaces. As part of its first test run, Flirtey delivered a package of bottled water, emergency food and a first aid kit to a “residential setting” in the town of Hawthorne, Virginia.

“Conducting the first drone delivery in an urban setting is a major achievement, taking us closer to the day that drones make regular deliveries to your front doorstep,” said CEO of Flirtey, Matt Sweeny.

Australia Post also recently announced a $20 million innovation fund that will look at investing in and further developing new technologies like drones to show customers – and Government – the benefits they can provide.

Image: Ahmed Fahour. Source: Australia Post