​Australia Post to trial drone delivery

​Australia Post has partnered with local startup ARI Labs to trial the use of drones for small deliveries.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Government-owned Australia Post has announced its plans to trial the use of remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) -- or drones -- to deliver small parcels around the country.

According to the postal service, the closed-field trial, which is slated for later this year, is an important next step in testing the new technology which it hopes will result in the faster transportation of time critical items like medication, as well as simply keeping the online shopper happy.

Australia Post managing director and CEO Ahmed Fahour let slip last month his interest in using drones to deliver parcels in rural Australia, saying 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.

"We're excited to be the first major parcels and logistics company in Australia to test RPA technology for commercial delivery applications," Fahour said in a statement Friday.

"We will put this innovative technology through its paces over the coming weeks and months to understand what it can deliver, how far it can travel, and ultimately, how our customers could receive a parcel.

"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."

Australia Post said it is working closely with Melbourne-based startup ARI Labs, the developers of the proprietary technology, to demonstrate the reliability and applications of the technology.

In the past, ARI Labs developed and manufactured drones for airfield sensor calibration for the Australian Government Department of Defence Maritime Surveillance Management and Target Systems SPO.

Earlier this month, the federal government introduced new regulations on the use of RPAs in the country, which now sees commercial operators of "very small remotely piloted aircraft" no longer required to obtain a number of regulatory approvals to fly their unmanned vehicles.

Under the changes, the regulatory requirements for remotely piloted aircraft are eased, with the term "unmanned aerial vehicle" (UAV) replaced by RPA. The explanatory statement says this is to align itself with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) terminology.

The changes, which take effect in late September 2016, apply to remotely piloted aircraft used in commercial operations weighing less than 2 kilograms maximum take-off weight.

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 then, Finland's national postal company, Posti, followed suit, successfully testing the use of a UAV for delivering online purchases in October; and Swiss Post, Swiss WorldCargo, and logistics drone manufacturer Matternet joined forces in mid-2015 to test the practical use of flying drones in logistics in Europe.

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

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) cleared online shopping giant 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.

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.

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