According to The Nikkei Asian Review today, Japanese online retailer Rakuten and Yamato Transport, a unit of logistics company Yamato Holdings, will conduct field trials of drones with the aim of using them for home deliveries, following in the footsteps of Amazon.com and other rivals already experimenting with the technology.
The test flights will begin as soon as April in the city of Chiba, which was named a special strategic zone by the Japanese government. That designation is expected to loosen a number of aviation restrictions.
The drones will fly from vacant land and other places to the city's coastline. With the cooperation of Autonomous Control Systems Laboratory, a local startup originating from Chiba University, the project team will collect data on how coastal wind conditions and other factors impact flight.
The service is set to kick off in 2020. Drones will start picking up packages from distribution centers in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, and other places. The parcels will then go to a large-scale condominium development project in the prefecture.
Drone deliveries to upper floors from ground-level collection terminals are also being looked at.
Other companies like Start Today, which operates the online clothing outlet Zozotown, and meteorological data company Weathernews also were sounded out about participating in the project. Amazon is also mulling conducting its own field tests in Chiba.
The use of drones will help solve the severe labor shortage currently affecting the home delivery industry. Drones can of course bypass traffic congestion to make deliveries on time.
The government implemented tougher aviation rules in December after a drone carrying radioactive material was discovered on the roof of the prime minister's office last April. Drones are restricted from flying in such locations as all of Tokyo's 23 wards and in the vicinity of airports.
Despite the renewed focus on safety, the government still encourages the spread of drones. The transport ministry had handed out 1,065 permits allowing drone flights and related activities as of Feb. 8.
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