Australian startups plan on using UAVs to deliver textbooks
By Ben Coxworth
October 18, 2013
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.