Home shoppers living in an apartment complex just east of Tokyo got a taste of the future last month as they became the first ever recipients of on-demand drone deliveries to a metropolitan residential high-rise in Japan.
Over two weeks in December 2021, a drone carrying a variety of goods was flown directly from a logistics facility in the city of Ichikawa some 12 kilometers west to the top of a 31-story residential building more than 100 meters high in the city of Chiba.
Delivered straight to the rooftop of a residential building
The initiative was part of a two-week trial spearheaded by JP Rakuten Logistics, a joint venture formed in mid-2021 between Rakuten Group and Japan Post. The venture is part of the Technical Study Group of Drone Delivery Committee in Chiba City, a group established to push forward metropolitan drone-driven innovations like this one.
Through a website specifically developed for the trial, residents of the building could browse from a selection of goods and place orders for immediate delivery.
Upon receiving an order, workers at the Ichikawa logistics center load the goods into the delivery drone to prepare for liftoff. At 175 centimeters across and 90 centimeters tall, the drone carries a maximum payload of seven kilograms.
Once loaded and ready to fly, the drone begins its 12-kilometer trip, autonomously navigating from Ichikawa to Chiba over a route that flies almost entirely over Tokyo Bay. Soaring at around 50 kilometers per hour, it takes the drone around 20 minutes to make a delivery, during which customers can check the location of their goods in real time online.
Finally, the drone touches down on the helipad of the apartment complex and releases the package — entirely autonomously.
Not just for disasters
The two-week trial marked the first time on-demand drone deliveries were made to a metropolitan high-rise in Japan.
The catalog of goods made available during the trial primarily focused on emergency supplies — first-aid kits, medications and emergency foods — demonstrating the viability of drone deliveries in times of crisis when other logistics routes may not be at full capacity.
But while drones may prove highly valuable in disaster situations, the team is eager to see airborne deliveries become a part of regular logistics, too.
“Drone delivery services have potential not just in times of crisis, but as a way to shorten delivery times and enable new lifestyles,” remarked Kentaro Miura, a Chiba city official involved in the project. “We will continue taking on new challenges in the field of drone deliveries.”
Rakuten’s drone experts have spent the better half of a decade running trials delivering to remote islands, mountain peaks, private homes and more. With officials opening up to ambitious initiatives like this one, a future of personal drone deliveries may not be so far off after all.