A textbook-rental startup in Australia has found a new way to shave costs from its business model: delivery by drone. Zookal, which sells and rents textbooks to Australian university students, has launched a pilot program (pilotless program?) at the University of Sydney to deliver textbooks by autonomous hexacopter.
The drone, from a University of Sydney supported startup called Flirtey, will fly to a customer at a designated GPS location based on data sent from an app on the customer’s cell phone. Hamish McKenzie of PandoDaily reports that Zookal is partnering with another startup, social media company Vimbra, to build a joint drone delivery service. The companies say that the service will dramatically reduce the cost of local shipping of textbooks and cut delivery time. The drone is not equipped with a camera, but it does have collision avoidance systems to prevent collisions with birds, trees, buildings, and overhead wires.
The delivery system, the companies claim, will fly to the GPS waypoint assigned for the delivery, hover above it, and then lower the book package to the waiting customer. The two companies claim that Zookal’s delivery trial is the first commercial use of drones in the world (though other companies have used drones in trials and as part of promotional stunts, such as a pizza delivery drone used in a viral campaign by a UK Domino’s franchise holder).
Australia currently allows commercial drone operations, but expansion of the service beyond the Sydney trial—and to other countries—will have to leap multiple regulatory hurdles. In the US, commercial drone operations are still not legal while the Federal Aviation Administration considers rules for integrating drones into the national airspace.