The situation in Logan is a good example of how community anxiety over drone use can be assuaged over time and the pandemic has ended up enhancing the usefulness of drones in a range of industries, from the delivery of goods to 3D cartography.
Jonathan Bass, director of Wing, which is owned by parent company Google Alphabet, said orders worldwide for the drone delivery company’s services have increased about five times since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and he expects the boost to be permanent.
“It’s great for people who might not be comfortable leaving their homes for any reason outside of the pandemic situation,” he says. “It’s also very useful for people who have young children who may not be able to run to stores or for someone who can work from home on any given day.
Wing is running pilot programs in Logan and Canberra, and plans to expand its services to other locations in Australia.
“We started very early in Australia, I think Australians are generally passionate about drones and new technologies,” he says.
Wing has faced some community opposition to its tests in Canberra from residents concerned about noise and impact on wildlife, but Bass says redesigning drone propellers to make them quieter has resolved most of these problems.
“Since we made this change the feedback we have received on noise has been considerably more positive and it was definitely a big lesson for us from this trial,” he says.
Wing won’t reveal how much it is investing in trials that allow companies to use its drones to deliver items. However, other startups have already started to make a commercial comeback from the technology.
Aeromedical logistics start-up Swoop Aero, launched in 2017, uses drones to deliver medical supplies to Malawi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mozambique. The startup raised an “eight-figure sum” from investors, including Right Click Capital and Tempus Partners in June.
CEO and co-founder Eric Peck said the company, with a team of around 40, has been able to compete with giants like Google by being quick to market with its service.
“We are still a small, agile company and this gives us great flexibility to be able to meet market demands,” he says. “One thing we learned very early on is that just by entering the market and working with real paying clients, you can learn very quickly.”
Swoop also saw a significant increase in demand as the coronavirus pandemic began to spread across the world.
“When the networks were up and running it became a very logical choice to be able to efficiently deploy small planes to fly overhead and move products between different areas in different regions,” he says. “It’s a contactless supply chain for transporting medical supplies without having to bring people back and forth in small villages and run the risk of transmission.”
Peck believes this increased demand will continue after the pandemic.
“It really underscored the need for continuous and ongoing investment in public health,” he says. “Having a supply chain that can respond to a very dynamic situation like the one we are facing is going to be something that health systems around the world are ready to invest in in the future.”
Peck says Swoop’s operations in Australia and New Zealand are “about to start shortly” and now make commercial sense.
However, he adds that the real inflection point for drone technology at the local level will come when there is a single, comprehensive regulatory system for drone companies to follow, instead of different regulations in different states and jurisdictions. . Community perception of drones must also improve.
“We have noticed that people already have a lot of negative experiences with drones,” he says. “I think when those two things come together, that we can build community confidence in the technology, it’s not just about trying to spy on you.”
Niki Scevak, a partner at venture capital firm Blackbird Ventures, believes corporate use of drones will really take off when drones can fly independently.
“The key inflection point is that when you need a human gaze piloting a drone, they’re reliable and cheap, but you still need human operation,” he says. “The artificial intelligence when a drone can fly autonomously, even so that one person is flying eight at a time, that’s when use cases are really going to explode. At the moment, a pair of eyes is expensive. “
Blackbird is an investor in survey data analysis and 3D mapping start-up Propeller Aero, which raised $ 26 million in July of this year.
Propeller Aero’s drone mapping technology is used by mining, quarrying and construction companies to create 3D maps of their jobsites.
“Propeller is one of the fastest growing companies in our portfolio, like Safety Culture and Canva, it will be that kind of iconic company in a few years,” says Scevak.
However, Scevak says Propeller is now going beyond drones for its new product DirtMate, which will create real-time maps using Internet of Things sensors on machines.
“We’re probably still a few years away from that point where you’ll see every pizza and burrito delivered by drone,” Scevak says.
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Cara is the small business editor of The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, based in Melbourne.