Want a drone to deliver your online purchases? Move to Iceland

From the country that’s still live-streaming a McDonald’s hamburger eight years on comes a stab at an altogether more sensible project: drone delivery.

That’s right, Iceland is now one of the few countries in the world to launch a delivery service using drones, this one aimed at online shoppers in Reykjavik.

Drone company Flytrex has partnered with AHA, one of Iceland’s biggest ecommerce companies, to make the service a reality, flying ordered items over one of the city’s wide waterways to dramatically reduce the usual delivery time.

A video posted online this week shows the drone zipping from one side of the river to a customer on the other side. The journey usually takes one of its drivers 25 minutes to complete, but because a drone can take a more direct route, the delivery takes a mere four minutes.

“If you look at our city, it’s full of bays and difficult traffic routes, so to deliver from point A to point B, even though it might only be two kilometers by air, it might mean you have to drive for seven kilometers,” said AHA CEO Maron Kristófersson.

With drones able to reach some destinations far more quickly than cars, you might think a few job losses are on the way for delivery drivers in Iceland, but AHA insists the drones will operate alongside its vehicle-based network, thereby “increasing its daily deliveries capacity.”

Flytrex and AHA are using a DJI Matrice 600 drone for the service, attaching a large box to its base to hold customers’ orders. This particular DJI drone, a hexacopter with a top speed of 40 mph (65 kph), can carry a payload of up to 13 pounds, which is a lot of pizza if that’s what you’re after.

The pair tout the service as the first-ever drone delivery system in an urban environment, though that appears to be stretching it a bit. There’s no indication that its flying machines are dropping off orders at addresses on busy streets, but the effort at least highlights how an increasing number of businesses are experimenting with the technology. And dropping items off across waterways seems like a sensible alternative to sending a van out on a longer run.

While many companies — Amazon famously among them — would like to get similar drone services up and running, most regulators are still to be convinced that it’s OK to fly the machines out of the line of sight of either pilots or those monitoring autonomous flights. Domino’s in New Zealand conducted trials of pizza delivery by drone for several weeks in November 2016, and is now awaiting permission from the government to run further trials.

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