Israeli startup Flytrex, which specializes in food and consumer goods deliveries via drone systems, has launched a delivery service for “shelter-in-place” shoppers in Grand Forks, North Dakota, the company announced last week.
The service is operated in partnership with Grand Forks-based company EASE Drones, the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation and the City of Grand Forks, and will deliver necessities such as food, medicine, and other essential supplies via drone to minimize contact at stores and adhere to social distancing guidelines amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Shoppers select from over 100 Walmart items and the orders are delivered to homes’ backyards or designated areas in apartment complexes “in the safest, fastest and most sterile way,” the company says. During the initial stages of the pilot, the deliveries are offered to a select number of households that sign up for the service.
The initiative helps “address the growing health crisis by keeping citizens in the safety of their own homes and reducing crowding and unnecessary contact at local stores,” Flytrex said in a joint statement.
“Right now we’re focusing on groceries,” Wes Shover, head of US operations for Flytrex, told the Grand Forks Herald. “We want to limit the exposure for people going into big box stores, where they potentially are going to be exposed to the coronavirus.”
“In this time of crisis and social distancing, drones provide the ideal solution to bolster delivery capacity while keeping citizens safe at home,” said Flytrex CEO Yariv Bash in the statement. “UAVs offer safe, swift, and efficient delivery of much-needed goods with no risk of unnecessary human contact for consumers.”
“We hope this initiative will alleviate hardships for as many of the people of Grand Forks as possible and help keep them safe and provided for,” added Bash.
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Grand Forks Mayor Michael R. Brown said that with the pandemic “threatening the wellbeing of our community, our businesses, and our way of life, we are committed to easing the burden on our citizens by leveraging unique resources in this time of crisis.”
There are certain limitations. According to the Grand Forks Herald report, the drones can’t fly over people, and they can only operate in the visual line of sight of the pilot, limiting the delivery area to approximately 120 houses. The drones can carry up to 6.5 pounds (2.9kg) in weight.
Bash said that Flytrex and its partners aim to expand the drone delivery service “to help citizens in other areas of the town, the state, and the entire country – as quickly as possible.
Flytrex was founded in 2013 by Bash, also the co-founder of SpaceIL, and Amit Regev. The company’s operations launched in August 2017 with delivery services in Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland, in collaboration with AHA, one of the country’s largest e-commerce companies.
In September 2018, Flytrex teamed up with King’s Walk Golf Course outside Grand Forks to launch the first golf course delivery system in the US. And last year, Flytrex was selected by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to participate in its UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP) in partnership with the North Carolina Department of Transportation to “test deliveries from restaurants to businesses.”
This spring, Flytrex announced it would launch a pilot program for drone deliveries in Israel’s Sharon area in partnership with Israeli drone company Kronos Group, which specializes in aerial photography and videography. The two companies are currently seeking certification.