On the southwest coast of Tokyo Bay lies Umikaze Park. A popular spot for fishing, barbecuing and playing catch with the kids, the park looks out upon Sarushima, a small uninhabited island known for its beach activities and intriguing ruins.
As of summer 2019, these two destinations have something very particular in common: unmanned deliveries.
A more grounded approach to delivery drones
Following the success of its Sarushima drone delivery service (in which groceries were flown autonomously from the rooftop of a supermarket directly to the island), Rakuten has once again teamed up with Walmart’s Japanese subsidiary Seiyu to deliver goods to leisure-seekers — this time to the nearby Umikaze Park.
On weekends between September 21 and October 27, a Rakuten unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) delivered goods to the park from the nearby Livin Yokosuka Seiyu supermarket. Picnickers, barbecuers and day-campers simply fired up the Rakuten Drone app to choose from 400 different supermarket items, including fresh fruit and vegetables, meat for the grill, beverages (yes, including beer!) and outdoor goods.
Payment was conducted through the app, which also prompted users to select a time and pick-up location. Delivery service staff loaded the products into the UGV, and the rest was automatic: As the vehicle arrived, the app sent the customer a notification with an access code, which was then punched into the vehicle’s screen to unlock the product compartment.
The service charged only 300 yen per delivery, and was the first of its kind in Japan to be made available to the public as a paid service.
Yokosuka embraces drone tech
Umikaze Park isn’t the UGV’s first outing: Rakuten Drone previously trialed the service on the Chiba University campus, east of Tokyo, much to the delight of students and staff. It isn’t Rakuten Drone’s first service in Yokosuka either, following a successful initiative flying groceries from the same supermarket to Sarushima island over the summer.
The joint endeavor also received governmental support in the form of the “Yokosuka x Smart Mobility Challenge” program, through which the city is looking to use drones and smart mobility technology to create new business and address logistical issues for residents in remote areas.
Meanwhile, Japan’s government has set up councils and is planning to establish standards for trials on public land within the current fiscal year. Rakuten and Seiyu (who also run an online grocery delivery service together in Japan) are keen to use the learnings collected from their various service launches to advocate for further adoption of autonomous technology, including — eventually — on public roads.
With public and private sector partners on board, Rakuten’s futuristic vision for drone deliveries looks closer to reality than ever.