Holly Springs could become the first town in the country with a business delivering packages to homes using a drone.
Flytrex, the Israeli start-up responsible for launching the world’s first autonomous urban drone delivery system in Reykjavik, Iceland, hopes to begin operating in Holly Springs before the end of the year, subject to regulatory approval.
It would start with takeout delivery from one local restaurant to a neighborhood close by and expand gradually over time. At first, the drones would operate under existing Federal Aviation Administration restrictions limiting flights to daytime, line-of-sight operations that don’t fly directly over people.
Holly Springs and Flytrex are part of a broad-ranging, three-year national program to safely test innovative uses of drones. They are working with the N.C. Department of Transportation, which heads a team of industry and government partners.
Assistant Engineering Director Aaron Levitt, who represents Holly Springs on the drone testing team, said participation could bring national attention to the town. “We would galvanize the town’s brand as far as being cutting-edge, innovative,” he said. Flytrex representatives are scheduled to make a presentation on its food delivery idea at the Aug. 7 Town Council meeting.“They were looking for a suburban area to test their technology,” Levitt said of Flytrex. “We thought we’d make a great team.”
To explain the pilot program, Flytrex would arrange public outreach meetings in Holly Springs and involve representatives from NCDOT and the FAA.
The FAA is overseeing the various drone usage ideas. It will evaluate results of the program as it considers changes to rules governing drone usage. Another partner on the NCDOT-led team is WakeMed, which is expected to test the use of drones in delivering medical supplies.
Yariv Bash, chief executive officer and co-founder of Flytrex, said the company was excited to work with a town as receptive to innovation as Holly Springs to demonstrate the social, environmental and economic benefits of airborne delivery.
“The FAA’s initiative signals a palpable shift in the acceptance of drones as the future of on-demand delivery," he said, "and we’re proud to be working with them and with Holly Springs to help make this vision take off.”
To alleviate any privacy concerns, Flytrex’s drones will not carry any cameras. As an added safety measure, they will all be equipped with redundant engines in the unlikely case of mechanical failure. Each drone can be fitted with a parachute. After the restaurant receives an order from a customer, a Flytrex representative on site loads a food package of up to 6 pounds and selects the delivery location and route in the Flytrex operations platform. The drone takes off and travels the short distance to the predetermined, approved area in the neighborhood nearby.
Meanwhile, a phone app provides the customer with the status of the order. The drone arrives at the delivery spot and remains airborne, awaiting confirmation that the customer is in position nearby. Then the drone lowers the food package by wire to the ground and releases it.
Levitt has been flying drones on his own time since 2014. More recently, he has helped interested co-workers become trained and licensed to fly drones for purposes such as construction monitoring, engineering design, economic development and infrastructure repair.