The United States isn’t the only country where researchers are trying to figure out the safest way for drones to deliver goods without crashing into power lines, street signs, and skyscrapers.
The Japanese government, drone maker Autonomous Control System Laboratory (ACSL), and companies including Japan-based e-commerce giant Rakuten began testing drones for home deliveries on Monday, according to local media reports. Although Japan prohibits people from flying drones in densely packed urban areas, government officials have opened the skies in the coastal city of Chiba, 25 miles west of Tokyo, for testing of drone deliveries.
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For one of the test flights, researchers loaded a bottle of wine into a basket attached to a drone with six rotors and sent it on its way from a shopping center rooftop to a nearby park, reported The Asahi Shimbun.
In another test flight, a drone loaded with medical supplies was able to fly and land on the rooftop of an apartment high-rise. In all the test flights, the ACSL-manufactured drones were programmed to fly autonomously using GPS coordinates, according to the Asahai Shimbun report.
The test flights were the first successful drone deliveries performed in a Japanese urban area, the Japan Times reported. The city of Chiba hopes that drone delivery services to homes will be ready for mainstream use by 2020, in time for the summer Olympics hosted in Tokyo, the report said.
Additionally, the local government wants several yet-to-be built condominiums to include landing areas on their balconies where drones can safely land and drop off goods, according to the report.
In March, a drone startup called Flirtey completed the first U.S. government-sanctioned autonomous drone delivery in a U.S. urban area. In that flight, a Flirtey drone delivered emergency supplies to an uninhabited house in Hawthorne, Nev. using GPS.
Numerous U.S.-based companies like Amazon (amzn), Walmart (wmt), and Google (goog) are all experimenting with using drones to deliver goods, although current Federal Aviation Administration rules requires these companies to seek approval for each trial flight.
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Shipping company Maersk is also experimenting with drone deliveries, and in March said it used a drone to deliver cookies to a tanker ship offshore in Denmark. Maersk estimated that using drones instead of small boats to deliver spare parts and other items to large container ships could save the company $3,000 to $9,000 per ship each year.