Israeli drone startup Flytrex has begun a pilot program making backyard deliveries from a Walmart in Grand Forks, ND to about a dozen nearby homes, looking to expand the program to further-out properties there in the months ahead while keeping to current FAA restrictions to line-of-sight piloting.
Yariv Bash, CEO of Flytrex, said the deliveries started last week under the auspices of the Northern Plains Unmanned Aerial System Test Site (NPUASTS). Customers place their orders from the Walmart via the Flytrex app and receive them within the hour. Flytrex supplies the navigation system, and the drones are manufactured by EASE Drones of Superior, WI.
Orders are packed at the Walmart and brought to a nearby launch pad. The EASE drones then deliver items weighing up to 6.6 lbs via a tether that unreels while the drone is hovering around 80 feet in the air. The service is free during the test period, but customers will eventually be charged a fee like they would for a Postmates or Instacart delivery.
“We were already doing deliveries to a golf course in Grand Forks,” Bash said, referring to a program started in 2018. “During the time of COVID-19, it’s important to provide contactless delivery.” Those taking part in the program opted into the service, which was made available to all residents in the neighborhood.
The day after the test started last, week, a fast food restaurant near the launchpad had its menu uploaded to the Flytrex app, and food orders are going out to nearby residents, Bash said.
Bash said other neighborhoods he hopes to service in Grand Forks are a mile or two away from the Walmart store, so it will take some weeks to get approvals for deliveries there. “The idea is to scale very fast,” he said. “The next phase is a few weeks away, and next after that will enable us to go within a 1- to 2-mile radius, that’s a few months away. After that we’ll be able to expand very fast.”
Bash estimated that Flytrex will potentially be able to service several thousand households in Grand Forks, a city of 50,000 residents, with drone delivery. He added he hopes to expand to denser suburban locations nationwide, but how that will work within the strictures of FAA and state/local regulations remains to be seen.
In addition to the golf course project in Grand Forks, also in conjunction with EASE, Flytrex started the first on-demand drone delivery service in Reykjavik, Iceland in 2017. In 2018, Flytrex was selected by the FAA to participate in its UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP) in partnership with the North Carolina Department of Transportation. It took part in a meal delivery pilot program in Holly Springs, NC in 2019.