According to The Asahi Shimbun, drone-delivered shopping moved closer to reality when three of Japan’s biggest companies announced they are joining forces for the ambitious “Drone Highway” project on July 12.
TEPCO Ventures Inc., a subsidiary of Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc. (TEPCO), map publisher Zenrin Co. and Internet giant Rakuten Inc. aim to ease the burden of shipping goods on the transportation industry through the project.
Under the plan, goods will be moved off the roads and flown along power grids by drones, cutting distances, journey times and costs.
“If drones can deliver packages, shipping costs will be reduced,” said Koji Ando, managing executive officer of Rakuten.
The three firms each bring a key element to the project. TEPCO has 50,000 steel towers and 15,000 kilometers in power grids in the Kanto region, while Zenrin owns nationwide map and geographical data, and Rakuten has developed its own drones and operational technology.
Test flights will be carried out in uninhabited mountain areas, with practical use starting from the early 2020s if all goes to plan.
In the meantime, Zenrin will analyze the locations of power grids and the surrounding land to create potential flight routes.
TEPCO will install equipment atop steel towers to monitor wind speed and direction, and Rakuten will fly drones based on the data provided by its two partners in the project.
The experimental course will be open to start-up companies, the firms said.
In recent years, transportation companies have faced serious challenges in dealing with the increase in shipping due to the rapid growth of online shopping services, coupled with a shortage of drivers due to the aging workforce.
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