In the wake of COVID-19, wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, and excessively washing hands are all part of everyday life now. Online shopping has become a necessity and thus having reliable shipping and delivery options. Just a few years ago, the United States Postal Service was becoming a dwindling business, being pushed out by shipping giants like FedEx and UPS. But once the entire nation was forced to use the mail to get everything from toilet paper to medications, the world realized just how important mail services are.
It didn’t take long for postal agencies around the world to become overwhelmed with the amount of parcels in need of constant delivery. One of the biggest issues some postal agencies faced was getting regular and timely deliveries to remote locations. In the United Kingdom, Royal Mail ran a successful trial using drones to deliver mail to the remote Isle of Mull. Upon proving the validity of drone mail delivery there, Royal Mail expanded the program. They set up an inter-island drone delivery system for the Isles of Scilly, the southernmost point of Britain off the coast of Cornwall. What was particularly significant about the Isles of Scilly drone program is that it was the first time a drone was being used to deliver goods from the mainland to an island location. In addition, the drones were operated by BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight).
Similar mail delivery programs have begun in parts of Australia where local merchants have been pioneering drone deliveries. As a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc (Google’s parent company), Wing began delivering merchandise from businesses throughout Canberra. Now, customers can use Wing to deliver their daily mail as long as they live within a 10km radius of a Wing drone hub. In mid June 2021, Japan announced that they too would begin using drones to deliver mail.
Several issues have made it clear to Japan Post that the use of drones would be the next logical step in serving their customers. The first has been the constraints put on the entire country from COVID-19. The second is that much of Japan Post’s employees are aging out and unable to meet the physical demands of door to door postal deliveries. And thirdly, many of Japan Post’s customers live in remote mountain ranges and islands. To solve the problem, Japan Post has partnered with Autonomous Control Systems Laboratory (ACSL).
Founded in 2013 by Profesor Kenzo Nonami and Washiya Satoshi, based out of Chiba, Japan, ACSL has become one of Japan’s leading drone solutions manufacturers and providers. Designing from the ground up, ACSL builds drones to meet niche market needs, including the software to enable safe and efficient operations. Thinking of robotics that relies on human brian like functions, ACSL designed drones that can interpret the world around them much like how a human’s brain instantly understands its surroundings. This allows for the drones to fly with superior agility while sensing all obstacles. These drones are also able to complete long distance flights BVLOS and can support a 2kg payload. The drone can carry payloads of varying shapes and sizes, making them ideal for mail delivery.
Japan Post has committed more than 3 billion yen to ACSL to support mail delivery via drones to remote locations. Trials have already begun, bringing parcels directly to customer homes by drone. “We are at the forefront of logistics innovation,” said Japan Post President Kazuhide Kinugawa, “combining Japan Post’s delivery prowess with the technology and know-how of the largest domestic industrial drone manufacturer.” Japan Post hopes to have a fully functional drone mail delivery program in place by 2023.