The world’s largest companies have been pushing drones as a delivery method of the future for nearly a decade now. The thing is, those same companies are starting to pull back. Recently, both Amazon and DHL, two of the biggest companies that have ventured into the drone space, have shied away from drones, with the latter ceasing drone development entirely.
With the bigger players cooling off on drones, the space is ripe for the picking for the hundreds of drone startups that have been innovating for years behind the scenes. In this new five-week series, Modern Shipper will be highlighting five companies that are making noise in drone delivery. This week, Modern Shipper sat down with Flytrex co-founder and CEO Yariv Bash to talk coffee, cloud computing and drones in your backyard.
Coffee on command
When asked about what Flytrex does, Bash provided an example that sounded downright utopian.
“I can offer a subscription to your morning coffee from Starbucks each morning,” he said. “You can get your Starbucks coffee every morning at 7 a.m. before you start your daily commute, to your backyard, each day. And it’s a robotic system.”
A subscription to coffee? Sign me up. According to Bash, Flytrex wants to do exactly that – in fact, it already has. The Israel-based company is currently operating a miniature drone delivery network, with FAA approval, in the Fayetteville area of North Carolina, where it’s been airdropping cups of Starbucks coffee to a central pickup hub. The company’s testing ground has spawned at least one certifiably viral moment:
A competitive edge
For Bash, suburban locales like Fayetteville are where Flytrex can gain an advantage over Amazon and DHL. Because suburban populations and businesses are less dense than in cities, the suburbs are more challenging for traditional ground-based deliveries to penetrate – they cost more, both in time and money. Bash and Flytrex are tailoring their drone solution specifically to solve that problem. By emphasizing short-range, high-volume and low-margin deliveries, Bash doesn’t need a drone that can do everything.
“I think it’s about the right approach,” he explained. “At Flytrex, we’re not trying to build the perfect drone from day one.”
Rather, Flytrex’s drones are specialized to deal with a very specific scenario: backyard drone deliveries in the suburbs. Flytrex doesn’t need drones that can fly 50 miles or hold a charge for 24 hours – it only needs drones that can deliver locally. Because of that focus, the company isn’t wasting time or resources trying to reinvent the propeller.
Of course, drone delivery is about much more than just the drones themselves. But Bash emphasized that Flytrex’s operation goes far beyond its unmanned aerial vehicles. Its drone delivery model is end to end, with just about every part of the system developed in-house.
“Because we’re developing everything from the drones to the cloud that controls them all the way to the marketplace, we can basically optimize each part of the system,” he said.
The sky’s the limit
Bash is unabashed when it comes to his company’s ambitions. He believes that Flytrex can scale as fast as Uber or Grubhub did and that its drones will soon be popping up in suburbs like electric scooters in cities. Already the company’s drones can carry more than 6.5 pounds of payload, travel 5 miles roundtrip and reach Fayetteville backyards in under five minutes. They’re custom-built for the suburbs, and Bash believes that the speed, convenience and low cost of Flytrex’s drone deliveries will make the company a mainstay.
“If an on-demand delivery now costs just a few dollars, then if you need tomatoes for your salad, just click ‘Buy Now’ and get your tomatoes in 10 minutes,” he said. “If you invited some friends over and you just finished your last bottle of wine, just click ‘Buy Now’ and get another bottle in 10 minutes. If you have a crying baby and you need a new pack of diapers, or if you have a headache and you need a Tylenol, just click ‘Buy Now.’”
Flytrex has already proven itself as a trailblazer in the industry. In 2017, the company launched one of the world’s first fully operational drone delivery services in Reykjavik, Iceland. In conjunction with AHA, the country’s largest online marketplace, Flytrex began making drone deliveries in the nation’s capital, with AHA reporting significant reductions in delivery costs and transportation times.
American suburbanites should be on the lookout for Flytrex drones in their neighborhoods in the near future. According to Bash, the FAA has certified Flytrex as part of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program, giving the company access to fly in suburban areas across the country. While Flytrex is still waiting on the FAA to implement comprehensive beyond visual line of sight regulations, it’s laying the groundwork to reach suburban airspace across the country.