Okay, this has got to be one of the weirdest tech initiatives in recent memory. Australian textbook rental service Zookal is partnering with a commercial drone manufacturer to create the world's first airborne, fully-automated textbook delivery system. No really. The 'Flirtey' drones will be capable of dispatching textbooks directly to a customer’s location within minutes via a GPS app. Handy when you need a quick algebra fix.
"Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Nope — it's a Flirtey drone delivering Das Kapital to a needy Humanities student."
This is the slightly bonkers concept behind Zookal's new parcel dispatch platform which is looking to disrupt the delivery service industry as we know it (and possibly our airports' flight paths. We kid.)
Billed as the the first fully automated commercial drone service in the world, the Zookal Flirtey drone aims to dispatch textbook parcels much faster than postal workers or couriers can manage. If the company is to be believed, waiting times will be reduced from two or three days to as little as two minutes, depending on the customer's location.
Students will be able to determine when their parcels are delivered by using an integrated smartphone app. The drone then tracks down the customer via their smartphone's GPS and drops the parcel at the agreed destination, free of charge. The textbooks are proffered to the customer on a lowering mechanism while the drone remains hovering above.
The drone is capable of calculating its route autonomously without any human interaction — bespoke "collision avoidance" technology ensures that objects and birds do not obstruct its flight path (it says here).
Starting life as an engineering project at the University of Sydney, the Flirtey tech was snapped up by Zookal in a bid to minimise rising delivery costs.
"We recognised that as our [parcel delivery] business grew, the current options would be unsustainable from a cost and performance perspective," Zookal's CEO Ahmed Haider explained in a statement.
"This joint venture with Flirtey gives us an opportunity to provide a significantly faster and more efficient delivery of goods while reducing our ecological footprint and costs. We expect the use of drones will cut our delivery costs from $8.60 to 80c per delivery, and because they are battery powered, the environmental impact is minimal."
Hmm. Call us cynical, but having a fleet of drones whooshing about doesn't seem like a particularly cost-effective solution to us. When you factor in the inevitability of lost drones, frequent repairs and misplaced cargo, the projected savings are unlikely to pan out.
On another note, while the concept of drone-delivered textbooks is definitely cool, it seems to belong in a different era. With every passing year, more and more textbooks are being offered digitally — it will only be a matter of time before tablets and ereaders become the norm, which will render the whole Zookal enterprise redundant. Then again, maybe the novelty of automated delivery drones will cause a print resurgence.
The Zookal Flirtey will be making its maiden voyage sometime in "early November". Watch this space! (i.e. — the one above you.) In the meantime, you can check out a video of the drone in action below: