Australia Post considers drone delivery

Delivering mail to rural areas of Australia could be made a lot easier if the government-owned Australia Post heads down the path of drone delivery.

Australia Post is considering trialling unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to deliver mail in some rural areas, Australia Post managing director and group CEO Ahmed Fahour said on Wednesday.

Speaking at the AFR Business Summit in Sydney, Fahour said that when a driver stops at the farm gate of a property, they could use a drone to deliver the mail to the door of the farmhouse, rather than complete the trip up an often long driveway.

Potentially making good on his promise to invest in ideas that will improve the lives of Australia Post's customers, the CEO said this practice would improve service and make it more convenient for rural customers.

"I know there are some retailers right now that we're working with, and I'm hoping later this year we're going to do some trials," Fahour said.

"The reality is that anybody who doesn't believe that technology is going to fundamentally change the way we do business in this country is mad."

Beating Australia Post to the idea was the world's largest logistics company, Deutsche Post DHL, who launched the first autonomous delivery flight by parcelcopter in Europe in late 2014.

Since DHL became the first in Europe to use a commercial drone to deliver packages, Finland's national postal company, Posti, followed suit, successfully testing the use of a UAV for delivering online purchases in October.

Although tests ran smoothly and parcels reached their destination in Helsinki, the harsh Scandinavian winter proved too much for the unmanned devices.

Swiss Post, Swiss WorldCargo, and logistics drone manufacturer Matternet also joined forces to test the practical use of flying drones in logistics in Europe in mid-2015.

Singapore Post (SingPost), in conjunction with the country's ICT regulator Infocomm Development Authority, completed its own pilot involving a drone in October, with its UAV authenticating the recipient before the delivery was left.

SingPost's 2 kilometre test flight took five minutes, with the drone carrying a package comprising a letter and a t-shirt.

At the time, a SingPost spokesperson told ZDNet that no firm plans had been made on when the drone delivery would be commercially launched, or which areas within Singapore it would be made available.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) cleared Amazon to experiment with drone deliveries in April last year, stipulating that they can only be flown in daylight and operators need to maintain a visual line of sight.

In November, Amazon revealed the latest look for its Prime Air drone, which it said was destined to deliver packages within 30 minutes.

Walmart then filed an application with the FAA in October to test its drones to fulfil deliveries to customers at its own outlets and customers' homes, as well as curbside pickups.

Alphabet's Google also jumped on the idea of drone delivery a little while ago, with Project Wing -- the search giant's initiative aimed at making deliveries via autonomous vehicles -- hoping to have a to-market product come 2017.

However, a patent granted to Google in February says that an autonomous aerial vehicle may not, on its own, be enough to make such a system work.

"Unmanned, aerial delivery devices may be problematic for delivery to users" the patent says. "For example, an aerial delivery device that is powered by a rotor or an impeller may be dangerous to pets, overhead powerlines, ceiling fans or other features."

In response to the FAA's legislative issues with drone delivery, Starship Technologies, the Estonian venture of two former Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, unveiled its own answer to delivering goods -- a self-driving delivery robot.

"We realised it's possible to do deliveries using a small land-based robot and it would be much simpler and safer than drones, for instance," CEO Heinla told ZDNet in November.

In July, Flytrex, a maker of drone tech for the consumer market, launched a new UAV designed to deliver items which reportedly included a cold beer.

With AAP


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