Flytrex, an Israeli delivery drone technology company with nationwide aspirations in the U.S., has been awarded a waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly its drones over residential sections of Fayetteville, NC, en route to backyard wire drops of groceries and other items.
The deliveries are coming from Walmart as well as local cafes and restaurants in Fayetteville, including Dairy Queen and Starbucks. Customers can place their orders using the Flytrex app and they arrive in minutes. The FAA waiver allows Flytrex to operate its drones up to a mile for deliveries.
Flytrex also has a drop point near the Walmart store where customers can pick up an order, an experience that got mixed reviews from a local reporter who tried it out last fall. Complaints included a limited number of available items for purchase, lack of a search function in the Flytrex app, and the cool drone experience the only upgrade from curbside pickup. Backyard wire drops are definitely an improvement.
“Our approval is for line of site operation, and the area services more than 2,000 homes,” said Yariv Bash, CEO of Flytrex. “All the information we’ve seen, this is the largest approval given to date to any drone company in the U.S.”
One operator can control up to 20 autonomous drones simultaneously, and each can handle a 6.5 lb. payload. Flytrex partners with NC-based Causey Aviation in the program. Prior to the new waiver, Flytrex was only making deliveries to a few dozen homes.
Flytrex has been operating drones in Fayetteville since 2018 after being tapped as one of 10 groups to participate in the FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program, opting to continue with the agency’s Beyond initiative starting last year. It is working with transportation agencies in North Carolina as well as Kansas and North Dakota on drone delivery initiatives, also in conjunction with Walmart.
Bash said his plan is to obtain certification from the FAA allowing Flytrex drones to operate beyond visual line of site, up to two miles beyond the pickup point, by the end of the year, which he called “the holy grail.” Amazon obtained such an FAA approval last fall for its Prime Air program.
To get to this level of FAA certification, Bash said Flytrex has to manufacture its own drones, in order to ensure standards for safety such as sense and detect and avoidance. A production facility is planned in North Carolina for that purpose.
“The goal is to deliver from any retailer or restaurant,” he said. “It’s more affordable, faster, greener and quieter (than car or van delivery), and it’s private, with no cameras so there are no privacy issues. It’s a better solution for on demand delivery. We want to make it as ubiquitous as Amazon Prime is today.”
Bash compared it to a delivery driver, making one or two stops on a route for a courier service. “In a lower population density area, it’s a much bigger problem,” he said.
In April, Walmart and Flytrex expanded their drone delivery pilot to a second location in nearby Raeford, NC. There, shoppers can select a broader assortment of select grocery and general merchandise items, including frozen foods from the deli.
Flytrex has been running hundreds of delivery drones in Reykjavik, Iceland since 2017 for ecommerce company Aha. Meanwhile, other drone companies have developed vehicles that can deliver three and four orders in a single run. The sky is indeed the limit.