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Australian startups plan on using UAVs to deliver textbooks


October 18, 2013

A Flirtey UAV near the Sydney Opera House

A Flirtey UAV near the Sydney Opera House

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University textbooks can be quite expensive to purchase, so Australian startup Zookal now offers an increasingly popular option – textbook rentals. The problem is, some of the money that students save by renting just goes into shipping charges for the rented books. That's why Zookal has joined with another Ozzie startup, Flirtey, to offer free textbook delivery by drone.

Students would start by ordering a text using Zookal's smartphone app. That book would be loaded into a carrying case mounted on the underside of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), at a regional Zookal dispatch center. The aircraft – a hexacopter – would then fly to the client by homing in on their phone's GPS coordinates.

It would fly using autonomous control technology, which would include a collision avoidance system to keep it from hitting things like trees or buildings. Additionally, it would feature a fail-safe system that would cause it to slowly descend to the ground if its battery pack died.

The client, meanwhile, would be able to track the UAV's progress via its own GPS chip. When the hexacopter arrived at their location, it would hover in place and lower the text down to them on retractable cords.

If the Flirtey textbook delivery service does indeed get off the ground (no pun intended), the company hopes to expand the service to other countries for delivery of a variety of goods. Australia is a good place to start, as it has already legalized commercial UAV flights. Flirtey co-founder Matthew Sweeny says that delivery costs should be very low, and would be covered by the marketing budget of partner companies utilizing the service.

The technology is being developed with the assistance of the University of Sydney's Warren Center for Advanced Engineering. A demonstration project is planned to take place on the university campus.

The Matternet project plans to take delivery-by-drone several steps further, using quadcopters and a network of charging stations to deliver goods to remote African communities. At the other end of the spectrum, the organizers of this year's Oppikoppi music festival used UAVs to get beer to thirsty concert-goers.

More information on Flirtey is available in the video below.

Source: Flirtey via TechCrunch

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Dumb, not in this century...

S Michael

A $1000 drone would have to make about 200 flawless autonomous flights before it paid for itself. If you put a human in the loop to control it, forget about ever saving any money compared to the cost of shipping the book.

Bob Shock

This is another reminder that paperless office\education is far off.


Pizza Delivery.

Mick Martin

they say 9/10 startups fail in the first year.

here's 2 more.


5 years time - everyone will have 'drop-boxes' on the side of their house/apartment for these drones to deliver fast food. But it'll need some new planning departments to set local air rules to avoid mayhem.


"When the hexacopter arrived at their location, it would hover in place and lower the text down to them on retractable cords."

Were these people never students? How many drones do they think they're going to get back?!

Chris Hogan

People would struggle to steal the drones without being caught on camera. The drone can call home when anything destabilizes the flight and stream the theft back to the office. Whether this stops students... is another matter.

Hugh Halford-Thompson

I thought with the onslaught of iPads and similar other devices we would be moving away from paper text books. On a more general note, I wonder how well the concept of UAV-based delivery services would scale upwards? Could you imagine a neighbourhood with dozens of these things flying around delivering packages from Amazon and eBay? FedEx and UPS rest easy (for now).

Marlon Thomas

If it is cheaper than post, why doesn't the Post Office use them ?

Martin Hone

It is illegal in Australia to fly a drone without a helicopter pilot's license. http://www.casa.gov.au/scripts/nc.dll?WCMS:STANDARD::pc=PC_100377


great way to deliver a booby prize, like a bomb


PR fluff. Might work if your customer lived in the middle of an empty field within 5 minutes flying time of the depot and for some reason wanted an empty cardboard box delivered. Otherwise - let the Postie deliver the book, or better yet download the electronic version.

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