Despite drone delivery technology soaring in recent years, most Australians still have a while to wait before dinner—or anything else on demand—is dropped at their doorstep.
Although trials in some parts of the country are revolutionising the delivery and logistics space, red tape is keeping the tech grounded in our more built-up areas.
Experts in the field believe our homes and businesses could be tailored to accommodate drones, similar to the integration of electric car charging stations, but adoption won’t be overnight.
Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), which is responsible for the safety regulation of aircraft including drones, estimates the number of domestic recreational drones at up to 2 million, meaning about 1 in 10 Australians have a drone.
However, from January 2021, fines of up to $11,100 can be issued to anyone flying unregistered drones for commercial use.
Brendan Gillen, director of Kapcher, a data acquisition company using 3D modelling and AI, says the drone paper trail required by CASA is arduous.
“The laws we are held to by CASA have created a bottleneck in the industry,” he says.
“Because CASA is a government body, it can’t really get enough cash behind it to bring it up to speed.
“They’re trying to manage drones with laws created for manned and hybrid aircraft which means, basically, if you follow the letter of the law you can’t really fly drones anywhere.
“There just isn’t enough funding in the drone space for how fast the technology’s going.
“Within CBD locations you can’t fly a drone, it’s just an absolute no-go because it’s unsafe, according to CASA.”
Gillen says that although Australia’s drone industry is progressing at a measured pace, other countries are “happy to push the boundaries”.
Zipline, a US drone delivery company, is setting a high benchmark in Rwanda, Africa, where it has completed more than 540,000 commercial deliveries and served more than 3400 health centres by providing blood and other medical supplies to about 45 million people.
“I think there are pros and cons to being very highly regulated as we are in Australia,” Gillen says.
“While it does mean we follow the procedures, it also hinders the ability to try new things and innovate really quickly.
“My opinion is you should fail fast. If it doesn't work, then we know and we don’t invest more money and more time than we need to.”
Given the restrictions around operating drones in cities, businesses such as on-demand drone delivery service Wing are piloting programs in spacious suburbia.
Wing’s latest partnerships are with retail brands such as Coles and Doordash, along with developer Mirvac, to get groceries and takeaway meals to people’s doors.
Recently, Mirvac’s Orion Springfield Central shopping centre in Queensland’s Ipswich started using Wing’s delivery drones to provide food and essentials to surrounding communities.
Wing general manager Simon Rossi, said the operation was unique for Australia.
“We’re really focused on suburban areas right now, places where there are more houses and a little more space,” he says.
“We think in time we’ll be able to deliver to apartment buildings and the like but, at this stage, we’re really focused on single family homes that are probably more suitable.”
The drone industry has the potential to increase Australia’s GDP by $14.5 billion by 2040, according to Deloitte Access Economics. Drones and other emerging aviation technologies are projected to create up to 10,000 jobs over the next 20 years.
Analysis from Accenture revealed an uptick in drone usage could eventually reduce traffic congestion by 2 billion vehicle kilometres, of which 1.2 billion will be from main arterial roads.
This reduction could result in 320 fewer serious accidents a year and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 238,000 tonnes—equivalent to the carbon storage of more than seven million trees.
Rossi says the luxury of space in suburbia means safety can be more accurately guaranteed.
Secure shopping centre rooftops or upper-level carparks are housing drone “nests” and the aircraft remain 6m to 7m from the public during delivery.
“Once we’ve collected the order from the shop or restaurant, we take it up to the drone which will then take off vertically to a height of about 7m where it hovers,” he says.
“It lowers a tether and the item in a specially designed box is attached to the tether, which then retracts up and locks itself into the drone.
“The drone will ascend to about 70m and travel at around 110km/h to the customer.
“As it gets to the customer, the drone will lower itself, slowly lower the parcel by the tether to the ground and release the parcel.
“Then the tether retracts into the aircraft and it flies back to its drone base or ‘nest’.”
He says that any address with an open area in a front or backyard, or even a driveway, could accommodate a drone delivery.
“As long as there’s a space of about the size of a picnic blanket then the drone will fly to that location,” Rossi says.
Mirvac chief digital officer William Payne says the reality of drone technology is being carefully considered by the developer.
“The future-proofing of Mirvac’s buildings and ongoing maintenance is critical, so we are always looking at ways we can improve processes and create efficiencies without compromising on quality,” he says.
“Technology in all its forms plays a major role here. There are numerous applications for autonomous and semi-autonomous drone and robotic platforms, many of which focus on safety and quality control,” adding that Mirvac employs drones for inspecting and tracking the progress of its masterplanned community developments for maintenance, quality assurance and customer updates.
“While the use of drones won’t immediately change the design of buildings, the technology will be used more and more to augment current development models.
“Looking further into the future for example, it is possible we will see buildings and precincts designed with both drone delivery and personal transportation in mind.”
You are currently experiencing The Urban Developer Plus (TUD+), our premium membership for property professionals. Click here to learn more.