Will Drones Become the Home Delivery Service of Choice?

CEO of Aha.is Maron Kristofersson is showing how drones can help local businesses stay competitive by providing better customer service in smart cities and suburbs.

By Chase Guttman

By Chase Guttman June 11, 2020

The skies above urban and suburban areas may soon become delivery highways, routing people and packages with greater speed and efficiency than ever. This isn’t a scene from the Jetsons. Most of the technology already exists, but just needs to be tested in the real world.

So why not start in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland? That question led Maron Kristofersson to become co-founder and CEO of Aha.is, an ecommerce marketplace based in Iceland.

In 2017, Aha partnered with the drone company Flytrex to launch the first autonomous drone delivery system in Iceland. They’re testing and refining an on-demand aerial drone delivery system that Kristofersson believes can help sustain local businesses negatively affected by chain-store competition.

There’s a critical need, because people want products and services delivered as fast as they click to place an order.

“Within three to five years, 50 percent of our deliveries will be via drones,” said Kristofersson.

Flytrex Drone Delivery in Reykjavík, Iceland

By equipping them with a wire-drop system to lower packages into backyards, and making fleets of them affordable and easy to use, drone delivery technology could have significant impact on local economies, according to Kristofersson.

“Businesses like shopping centers are suffering around the world,” he said. “Mom-and-pop businesses struggle to survive.”

Kristofersson’s business attempts to address that by transforming the customer’s experiences at a hyperlocal level.

“Our  online platform helps traditional retailers to serve their local area faster and better than Amazon can,” he said. “Our focus is to make sure that traditional retailers do not have to think about technology at all. Allowing traditional retailers to maintain their strengths is very much in our mantra.”

A central part of Aha Partner’s mission is to bring innovation to transportation and delivery logistics. Kristofersson believes current methods are not sustainable.

“Cars are extremely complex machines,” he said. “Even the regulations are complex. Drones, however, are very simplified.”

This next frontier in delivery, quickly became a key part of his company’s effort to scale its logistics infrastructure. But, Aha Partners must first demonstrate remarkable safety standards and help shift the regulatory landscape before drone deliveries can become standard.

Blazing Trails Above

Kristofersson has managed to work with 6 various authorities of the government of Iceland, including the aviation authority, Iceatra on the project. “We told them that we’re going to be one first countries that will allow this or we’re going to be one of the last, due to the small size of the market” he noted.  “That message cut through.”

Flytrex & AHA.is: Drone Delivery Project in Reykjavík, Iceland

The Icelandic government gave Aha Partners’ approval to test drones beyond visual line of sight, a rarefied and important permission in the drone sector where stringent rules and regulations can stifle innovation. Kristofersson began flying delivery drones on the outskirts of the city, and has now moved to taking off close to the busiest intersection in Iceland’s capital city, becoming one of a select few able to test the viability of drone deliveries by flying in an urban setting.

“Already we have drones that are capable of getting Aha goods from A to B in a more efficient manner than an electric car,” he said. “The noise is significantly less than what you will hear from a highway or a road.”

A Foggy Future

However, Kristofersson’s company has to prove that their fleet of delivery drones are safe enough to scale. Constantly evolving regulations, public perception and uncertainty are additional obstacles to realizing his goal.

“Nobody really knows exactly what the traffic system will look like once regulation takes hold,” he said. “Will we see larger cargo and passenger drones catch on faster than delivery drones? I'm more worried about public perception.”

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were first used by the military to carry out surveillance and combat operations without risk to human personnel. Some of the negative connotations surrounding this technology can likely be attributed to these early applications.

“The benefits to the public need to be explained,” Kristofersson said. “These are extremely stable machines. It's people that are not stable. Everybody wants a drone delivery, but nobody wants a drone flying over their house. Once the public is used to delivery drones that are maybe 15 to 20 kilos of weight, their use will only scale upwards.”

But this requires extensive testing. The equipment needs to be able to fly in a variety of conditions including rain and wind in order for these vehicles to be a practical solution. He said this is why drone deliveries are not yet common.

“We are now running on a program where we try to increase deliveries by 15 to 20% every month,” he said.

If the program succeeds, smart cities and towns around the world will know what it takes to enable a local drone delivery system.

“This will completely change logistics and transport over the next, five to 20 years,” he said.

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Chase Guttman is a contributing writer specializing in drones. He authored the critically acclaimed book The Handbook of Drone Photography. Find him on Twitter @chaseguttman.

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