In 1930, James Kemsey Wilkinson founded Wilkinson Cash Stores in Leicester, England. Known today as Wilko, the family owned stores continue to be the go-to location for home goods with 420 locations throughout the UK. One of the keys to Wilko’s success is listening to what their customer’s needs are. In the early 2000’s, this meant opening up an online retail store to meet the growing demands of how people prefer to shop. In response to the social distancing and quarantine requirements of COVID-19, Wilko quickly adapted its retail model to include contactless shopping, curbside pickup, and home deliveries of items purchased from a local store or online.
On September 14, 2021, Wilko announced its latest venture to provide better services to its customers with drone technology. Wilko has invested £3million in StreetDrone to enable last mile drone deliveries of in store purchased items. Based out of Oxford, StreetDrone was founded in 2017 by Mike Potts, a business development executive, and Mark Preston, a former Formula 1 engineer. Together, Mike and Mark developed a system that could make drone deliveries viable by taking them out of the sky and putting them on the road.
In a 2013, interview on 60 Minutes, Jeff Bezos first announced his plans to begin product delivery via drones. Almost a decade later, and Amazon is still working out the kinks. Part of the problem is that finding a way to safely integrate drones in shared airspace is far more complicated than anyone ever imagined. There have been several proven models of aerial drone delivery systems, but not yet one that can fully address issues of deliveries in urban environments. StreetDrone has designed an unmanned vehicle that can safely maneuver through an urban environment.
The Pix-e is a low profile, narrow drone that can safely be integrated with ground traffic. The fully electric, zero emission, rapid charging drone has eight large storage lockers to securely deliver products directly to a customer. With a maximum speed of 20mph, Pix-e can safely navigate over a range of close to 50miles. It is this slow speed that sets Pix-e apart from other visioned autonomous drone delivery vehicles. Traveling slowly allows Pix-e to cover last mile deliveries without fear of causing accidents, yet still faster than other last mile delivery options in urban environments.
The UK has stated that automated manned vehicles, those that have automated lane-keeping systems (ALKS), will be permitted sometime this year. As of now, such vehicles, like a Tesla, require the driver to still be in control of the vehicle. Pix-e is an unmanned vehicle that is remotely operated. As explained on StreetDrone’s website, “Our teleoperation function means that vehicles can be driven safely by remote operators, taking people out of operational environments and making entire vehicle fleets more efficient. In fact, remote operation also means that vehicles can navigate complex situations, even when the autonomous software can’t cope!”
Currently, StreetDrone is running trails of Pix-e in Oxford and central London. With the investment from Wilko, StreetDrone aims to have Pix-e fully operational for urban drone deliveries by the end of 2023. “Autonomous vehicles are the future of automated logistics and StreetDrone is undoubtedly one of the key players that will lead the way in making this technology viable. It has gone from strength to strength over the last four years and is one of the companies that’s putting the UK on the map in developing this type of game-changing technology,” said Jerome Saint-Marc, chief executive of Wilko. “One of the key reasons we’re backing the team at StreetDrone is that this sort of transformative technology can have a huge and positive impact for hard-working families – and it’s this ethos that runs through all of our work at Wilko. Ultimately, it has the potential to reduce costs for customers when deployed in the retail sector.”