Tech

A small Australian town is getting burritos and aspirin delivered with drones


If you ask any residents living in Australia’s capital city, the small town of Queanbeyan on the city’s outskirts isn’t exactly how they pictured the future.

But a handful of alpaca farmers, artists, and other rural folk are getting a taste of tomorrow by trialling a drone delivery service that will drop off a few quesadillas and some aspirin at the touch of a button.

 

Google’s Alphabet X is out testing the waters on its drone delivery service, Project Wing, in a region just outside the Australian Capital Territory in the country’s south east.

It might seem a tad far from Silicon Valley, but what Queanbeyan lacks in high rises it makes up for in wide open spaces.

Project Wing first carried out testing of the use of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in 2014, zooming out to a cattle ranch in country Queensland and dropping a parcel of small goods at the end of a line.  

This new trial is scaling up the service. Now a few lucky families can use their smartphones to tap out an order to the Mexican food franchise Guzman y Gomez, or the pharmaceutical chain Chemist Warehouse, and expect a relatively prompt delivery.

“Our testers – alpaca farmers, math professors, equestrians, and artists (not to mention a few curious kangaroos) – have been helping us fine-tune how our drones move goods from where they’re located to where they’re needed,” project co-lead James Ryan Burgess writes on their blog.

While drones have come a long way in recent years, turning them into automated delivery services is no walk in the park.

 

For one thing, drones need to cope with dynamic environments, avoiding not just trees and fences but vehicles and other drones.

Second of all, to be useful the system has to be so straight-forward, any burrito-packer could operate it. No offence to burrito-packers.

Getting the parcel from the sky to an address is also more challenging than simply dropping your taco onto the front porch from a short height. 

(A small spoiler; alpacas are apparently ok with this whole drone business thing. Carry on.)

 

The more Project Wing can test their system in relatively safe, simple areas, the smarter those systems will get, ironing out those bugs with minimal fuss.

You can see the drones in action, and listen to the researchers and testers explain it below (with bonus kangaroo footage):

Drone delivery services are looking more like big business in the near future, side stepping traditional postal companies and cutting out the labour component completely. For the customers, especially those out in remote areas, drones could provide access to services they missed out on previously.

Amazon are hot on Alphabet’s heels with their “Prime Air” service, having completed successful tests in the UK last year.

As the processes are perfected, these two juggernauts will no doubt be vying for business in bigger cities, adding more chains to the list of retailers happy to get their product in your hands without needing a postage stamp.

Enjoy those corn chips, Queanbeyan. The rest of the world can wait a little long for the future to arrive.

 



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