Iceland's answer to Amazon adds drone routes to urban deliveries

The new routes cover about half of Reykjavik, spotlighting huge gulf in commercial drone adoption between nations
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

Drone deliveries have officially arrived ... just not anywhere close to where you're probably reading this.

Iceland's largest native online marketplace, Aha.is, has been offering drone delivery along one limited route in Reykjavik for the last year. Now the company is announcing 13 new routes for its autonomous on-demand urban drone delivery service.

"Today's consumer desires almost instantaneous deliveries, almost as fast as they can click a button to order," said Maron Kristófersson, CEO of Aha. "Expanding our drone delivery service goes a long way towards meeting those sky-high expectations."

According to a spokesperson, the new routes will serve nearly half of Reykjavik. That saturation may seem shocking if you're living in a place where commercial drones have largely been kept out of the delivery space.

In the U.S., use of small unmanned aircraft is heavily restricted under the FAA's Rule 107. Currently, small drones must stay within line of site of an operator and can't be autonomous, two factors that make it very difficult to scale delivery.

In 2016, the FAA updated Rule 107 as it pertains to commercial drones. Exemption 333 opens the door to more commercial drone usage, but still prohibits use within 500 feet of non-participating people and structures, a de facto exclusion of urban delivery applications.

The FAA is piloting a commercial drone integration program, but the scale of the program is limited. That means delivery is grounded in the U.S. for the foreseeable future, in spite of interest and investment from Amazon. The FAA is notoriously slow-moving when it comes to amending its rules.

Elsewhere, for better or worse, attitudes toward commercial drone usage are more favorable. Aha went through stringent approval procedures with the Icelandic Transport Authority to get permission for its first route last year, including performing hundreds of successful test flights.

The online marketplace teamed up with Israeli drone company Flytrex to launch the service. The 13 newly approved routes are largely a byproduct of the strong safety and compliance record that's come out of that partnership since deliveries began in August 2017.

"We're reaching new heights in Iceland," said Yariv Bash, CEO and Co-Founder of Flytrex. "The people of Reykjavik can now order sushi or countless other consumer goods straight to their homes via drone. The city's citizens have come to expect instantaneous, on-demand food delivery, and now, with our direct-to-consumer wire drops, we're bringing the drone revolution to their doorsteps. Drone-based disruption is flying high, with Iceland as its runway."

Flytrex, which anticipates a global drone delivery boom, makes enterprise solutions for UAV delivery, including a control center that permits users to control drone fleets remotely via a simple screen interface.

For the past year, Aha has been using Flytrex's drone system to bridge two parts of Reykjavik separated by a large bay. The 13 new routes expand coverage, although operational parameters are still strict.

Aha's drones will have to fly along prescribed routes, though they have special permission to deviate up to 700 meters from their path in order to land in customers' yards in approved neighborhoods.

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