Imagine waking up after a long night and having your morning coffee dropped into your lap — by drone. (Without the mess of spilled coffee, of course.)
An Israeli company that develops cutting-edge air-related technology is working to make this a reality. The Jerusalem-based firm, FlyTech, recently won a contract with the local authority to be part of a two-year pilot program that will use drones to deliver goods, like coffee, and reduce traffic on Israel’s roads.
The startup was founded in 2017 by Moshe Lugasi and Eliran Oren, graduates of The Jerusalem College For Technology (JCT), who are also former Air Force officers with experience dealing with UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) squadrons. The two met while studying business administration at JCT and participated in the LevTech Entrepreneurship Center’s LAB pre-accelerator program. They credit their experience in the army and their time at the college with helping to move their company forward and continue to base their offices on campus.
“We are utilizing the vast experience and knowledge we gained during our military service with the academic tools we learned as part of our degree,” Oren tells NoCamels.
The pilot program will be carried out in cooperation with the Israel Innovation Authority. It involves flying drones over farmland in Hadera and Haifa to test them as unmanned delivery vehicles. According to Oren, the emphasis is on delivering small packages, such as letters or capsules of coffee (up to 2.5kg or about 5 lbs). He says the company is confident it will “soon be able to use larger tools that are capable of carrying much more weight.”
“We are experiencing success in the field and in the program,” Oren tells NoCamels. “FlyTech was selected due to the company’s extensive experience in flying drones as well as managing flight crews, but this pilot is especially unique because of our cooperation with the other two companies.”
Oren is referring to Airwayz and SkyLinx, two Israeli companies that are collaborating with FlyTech to conduct the trial of the drone delivery system.
“AirWayz, which develops command and control software, is responsible for the smart control of several drones at the same time as well as managing air traffic in front of the other planes in the sky. SkyLinx is responsible for managing the landing and logistics of the parcel delivery.” Oren explains. “This cooperation creates a wonderful synergy in all aspects that put it one step ahead of everyone else.”
FlyTech, for its part, is responsible for the drones and their flying.
“The company operates in a variety of fields, security, agriculture, civil engineering as well as in shipments. The intention is, after the company is firmly established in the country in front of private and government customers, to embark on international activities,” Eliran Oren tells NoCamels.
Oren says the company’s goal is to begin the move towards international markets in late 2021 or early 2022.
“We estimate that the product developed in the drone pilot program will be on the market in the coming years. It could transform the delivery industry, as it is expected to replace trucks and make deliveries from logistics centers,” he said in a statement.
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Drone delivery initiative
FlyTech is one of several companies taking part in a government-led initiative to promote delivery drones in Israel. In March, a large-scale test run took place in Hadera as part of the start of the pilot program that will see hundreds of drones from a variety of Israeli companies test their technologies in the next two years.
Dubbed the NAAMA project (a Hebrew acronym for Urban Aerial Transport), the initiative’s aim is to create a national drone network for commercial delivery, medical transport, and urban air mobility.
Since March 2020, the Israel C4IR Center at the Israel Innovation Authority, in cooperation with the Transportation Ministry (through the Ayalon Highways Company) and the Civil Aviation Authority of Israel, and a number of other entities, have been working to promote the use of drone delivery as a service.
The project was established to enable drones to be deployed for the public good, ultimately reducing congestion on public roads, transporting medicine and medical equipment and performing medical tasks, delivering various commercial goods more quickly, and enabling Urban Air Mobility (UAM) to function at scale in the future.
The first test included 20 drones from five different companies flying simultaneously over one single urban airspace. The companies were High-Lander Aviation and Cando, HarTek Technologies, F.T Technologies and SkyLinx, Simplex Interactive, and Airwayz Drones.
The 20 drones were monitored in the control room using software developed by Airwayz Drones which offers a multi-platform software that can control, manage, and automate the operation of drone fleets of different types for various missions. The solution uses a cloud-based network and decentralized swarm technology to share all flight information and enable operational coordination in real-time.
Skylinx, together with Airwayz and FlyTech, established the “SAFE” group, a partnership tasked with developing Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) applications that can operate urban delivery routes commercially, and will start piloting in Tel Aviv together with various companies and vendors that have already agreed on future cooperation.
Later, hundreds of others were scheduled to fly in various demonstrations over a two-week period, according to a joint statement from the organizations. This is the first such demonstration in Israel out of a series of eight planned to take place over the next two years.
“This is a significant global breakthrough in the ability to manage drone operations at scale, which will lay the foundation for future national drone operations in many areas,” the parties said in the statement. “To support the current phase of the pilot, the participating companies have been granted funds by the Israel Innovation Authority, as part of the Innovation Authority Piloting Fund Program.”
“A smart traffic management and air traffic control center that manages and prioritizes a number of drones flying simultaneously in one geographic airspace is a remarkable achievement, setting the stage for the future of mobility applications, a field in which Ayalon Highways is primed to play a leading role,” said Itamar Ben Meir, CEO of Ayalon Highways. “This demonstration is part of a long list of technological and regulatory developments required for the commercial operation of a national low-altitude air traffic network for drones in urban settings.”
The NAAMA Initiative tapped many local, international, public, and private stakeholders to facilitate technological breakthroughs while removing regulatory barriers and enabling Israel to become a “beta-site” for drone piloting and operations, the Innovation Authority said.