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Australian textbook delivery, care of drones

A textbook rental start-up will be delivering its packages to customers in the Sydney CBD by drone, starting March 2014.

A textbook rental start-up will be delivering its packages to customers in the Sydney CBD by drone, starting March 2014.

(Credit: Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

Textbook rental start-up Zookal has partnered with aerial technology start-up Flirtey (a joint venture between Zookal and Vimbra) to start delivering its packages to customers via unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) as of next year in what the companies are calling the first commercial use of the technology in the world.

As of March 2014, customers within 3 kilometres of the Sydney CBD will be able to arrange free delivery by air from one of six UAVs. They will have to order delivery to an outdoor area, and the drone will find the customer based on GPS coordinates sent from an Android app (an iOS app will be built after the program is launched). The UAV will hover over the location and lower the textbooks on a retractable cable, allowing the customer to detach the parcel and the drone to be on its way. The entire process could take as little as two or three minutes.

If the customer isn't there, the textbooks won't be lowered; the customer will have to hit a button on the app to lower the parcel. The drone will wait a short time for the command before flying away, and delivery will have to be rescheduled.

Zookal CEO and Flirtey co-founder Ahmed Haider said that the system will save a lot of money on deliveries. "This joint venture with Flirtey gives us an opportunity to provide a significantly faster and more efficient delivery of goods, while reducing our ecological footprint and costs," he said. "We expect the use of drones will cut our delivery costs from AU$8.60 to 80 cents per delivery, and because they are battery powered, the environmental impact is minimal."

Australia is in a unique position to pioneer commercial UAVs, thanks to regulations introduced by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority earlier this year. A new weight class of under 2 kilograms was introduced in a bid to encourage the uptake of commercial UAV use.

"As one of the few countries in the world to allow commercial drone activities, Australia is uniquely placed to create a new drone industry and shape the development of regulations in this space," said Haider, who hopes to take his business global if it succeeds in Australia.

However, due to their use in espionage and war, many have a distrust of UAVs. In order to combat this, Flirtey is working with the Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering to draft a set of guidelines for the commercial use of drones.

"We hope to use this guide as a way to work through safety, privacy and community concerns locally, which will hopefully set a benchmark for the rest of the world as to how to interact with this new technology," Haider said. "As with most major innovations that start with a military background, such as the Internet, SMS, GPS and satellites, when applied to a community problem, they have a significant and positive impact on society. Our goal is to do this with UAVs. We don’t store any user data other than what is required to safely deliver the product."

Zookal and Flirtey are planning a test flight for the drones in November at the University of Sydney.