The drone economy

Look! Up in the sky! It’s our future. And it’s spectacular.

Drones are a new technology that have a lot of people talking. Android co-founder Andy Rubin was talking about them here in Japan at NEST 2016. Of course, we are still in the very early stages of applying this technology in the real world, and there is a lot to learn about how drones can be deployed in commercial delivery. But there is no denying they represent an exciting technological step.

That’s why Rakuten recently partnered with Autonomous Control Systems Laboratory (ACSL), a company with Chiba University roots, to launch a drone delivery service called Sora Raku. Consisting of a “Tenku” drone that delivers goods to golfers on a golf course, Sora Raku represents the first drone delivery service of its kind in the world.

The “Tenku” drone, jointly developed by Rakuten and ACSL
The “Tenku” drone, jointly developed by Rakuten and ACSL

I have to admit that I initially thought drone delivery would be impossible – and many people agreed with me. I assumed that companies announcing drone delivery were doing so for the publicity. But, it turns out the idea was not only possible, it’s actually happening. And the speed with which this apparently “crazy idea” has transformed into a new business model is astounding. Now, drone delivery is opening up entirely new possibilities for delivering quality customer experiences.

The lesson I learned is that sometimes you need to look up from your old assumptions to see the future.

So what does the commercialization of drones mean for business?

Speed will be the norm. Many urban centers are congested with traffic. In Tokyo, it can take hours to get to a destination by car that is accessible in minutes via helicopter. The sky is the answer. A drone could rise above any traffic nightmare and reach a customer while a traditional delivery truck would still be sitting in rush-hour traffic.

Capacity will proliferate. Think about a road. It is flat. It is one-dimensional. Now think of the sky. It is three-dimensional. The capacity in skies above us is far greater than in the roads beneath our feet. We can make a difference in the lives of so many more customers.

These are just some initial thoughts: We are still learning about drone delivery technology and the ways it could be used to serve customers. We live in a remarkable era – a time when technological innovation can take us places we could previously only imagine. We are only at the start of this new business model. Still, it is a reminder to us all that we must continue to conceive and test new ideas – no matter how crazy they might seem at first. So much can be achieved.

Only the sky is the limit.


For a demonstration of the Sora Raku service, see the video below:

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