While companies like Flirtey and Amazon Prime Air have made a lot of noise about drone deliveries over the last few years, Flytrex has been working quietly away.
All of that work came to fruition a few weeks ago, when Flytrex launched the first ongoing drone delivery operation in Reykjavík, Iceland (as opposed to single, isolated deliveries, which is what we’ve otherwise seen from the companies mentioned above).
The Iceland delivery program was launched in partnership with Icelandic on-demand goods service AHA (think Amazon in Iceland). Which means that right now in Reykjavík you can order pizza, beer, or a hamburger and have it delivered to you via drone. For real.
We sat down with Flytrex CEO Yariv Bash to learn more about Flytrex’s drone delivery program in Iceland, his work in space travel through SpaceIL, and his thoughts on where the drone industry is headed.
UAV Coach: Tell us what Flytrex does in one short sentence.
Yariv Bash: Flytrex is a drone-delivery solution company that provides an end-to-end solution for your drone delivery needs.
UAV Coach: Can you tell us about the delivery services Flytrex recently launched in Iceland?
Yariv Bash: Flytrex partnered with AHA, which is the largest e-commerce website in Iceland, and we’ve started delivering goods and food deliveries on a daily basis across Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland.
We currently have 20 deliveries per day, and we plan on expanding that in the near future. The thing to emphasize is that the drone delivery program in Iceland is a system that has been deployed and will continue to expand as we receive permission to fly in different routes and in different parts of the city. It’s not a one-off. This is a system that we will be working in, in the years to come. If you fly to Reykjavik right now and you’ll be able to use the system with all the ease of shopping.
UAV Coach: What do normal daily deliveries look like in Iceland right now?
Yariv Bash: We started shipping goods last week, and people are ordering everything from sushi and hamburgers to waffle makers, beer, and champagne. Our drone can deliver anything from 2 and a half to 3 kilograms (5.5-6 pounds). It’s primarily being used for food delivery from different restaurants, as well as regular consumer goods.
UAV Coach: What regulatory hurdles have you faced in kicking things off in Iceland?
Yariv Bash: We started working on this together with the Icelandic Transport Authority a few months ago. They had us go through a meticulous approval process, which was not a burden for us.
For us, a drone is a small airplane that has to go through the same rigorous testing and safety risk calculations and mitigations that any other heavy duty drone or airplane should go through.
When you approach a regulator with this kind of attitude and show that you speak their language, then they embrace you because they’d rather work with people who understand their concerns and needs.
UAV Coach: Do you have any other major drone delivery news on the way?
Yariv Bash: As a company, our strategy is first do and then tell.
That’s why we’ve waited to announce the news in Iceland until we were actually making day-to-day deliveries, and had a real, fully deployed system in place. We’ve actually finished training the first batch of local operators in Iceland, and from now on the system will be operated by AHA and their personnel.
But to answer your question, we have already started deploying systems in other places and I hope that in the weeks to come we can talk about our next project.
For now, I’ll just say that we’re talking about an open environment where we’ll be delivering what I’ll call financial products between different skyscrapers in a modern city. That’s all I can say for now, but stay tuned for more news on drone delivery expansion.
UAV Coach: Flytrex originally started with the creation of a GPS tracking system that sends telemetry data to cell phones in real time. Can you fill us in on the evolution from that technology to creating drones that do deliveries and creating delivery networks?
Yariv Bash: We started Flytrex almost four years ago. From day one, we realized that the key application for drones is going to be delivery. But what we also realized was that the market was not there yet.
What we wanted was to evolve in the end to drone deliveries, so we started by providing a small unit that you can attach to every drone that transmits that data—the telemetry data—back to our servers, and from there to your cell phone.
Those servers are today the basis of our delivery service. We started with a one-way system that attaches to third-party drones and we ended up with having the same system now also controlling our drones.
UAV Coach: You’ve recorded a ton of data about flights done with Flytrex drones. What has that data revealed, if anything?
Yariv Bash: We’ve got more than 100,000 flights logged in our system—we control and receive data from drones in real time in more than 70 countries.
One of the things we’ve noticed is that the half-life for a consumer drone is roughly six months or so. It seems like most people buy a drone, play with it for a few months, and then forget about it.
Another thing that we’ve noticed is that prohibited flights seem to be on the decline in the U.S. Especially within the last year it seems like a lot more people are flying according to what the FAA’s Part 107 regulations allow, and we attribute this primarily to education and improvements in clarity on the regulatory side, so we’re seeing less flights beyond the line of sight, or at excessively high altitudes.
I’d say that 99% of people want to fly their drones for fun and they want to keep everyone else safe. They just follow the rules and stay within the guidelines.
UAV Coach: Tell us your drone industry story. How did you first get involved in working in the drone industry?
Yariv Bash: I’ve always loved things that fly, from having my small RC airplane when I was little to building a spacecraft at SpaceIL.
Back when I started SpaceIL my flatmate was Amit, who is today my partner at Flytrex. As I was phasing out of the day-to-day management of SpaceIL, Amit started working with drones and he asked if I wanted to join in and see what we could do together.
Once we started investigating the market, we quickly realized that there was a huge potential there, and we ended up starting Flytrex as a commercial company.
UAV Coach: Tell us about your work with SpaceIL and what you’ve done for Google’s Lunar X prize.
Yariv Bash: We started SpaceIL back in the beginning of 2011. It’s an educational nonprofit in Israel. The mission of SpaceIL is to land an Israeli spacecraft on the moon by the end of next year.
We’ve realized that such a mission could have a huge societal impact on the entire nation of Israel. Back in the ’60s during the first space race, kids turned on their TV sets and saw astronauts and scientists and engineers. It inspired numerous amounts of kids to want to go into space back then, and to become scientists and engineers, and this was a great side effect of the American space program.
In Israel, that’s our main goal with SpaceIL. We have met with more than 250,000 kids all over Israel, and we’re working on a nationwide program together with the Ministry of Education.
We don’t have to turn every kid into a scientist or an engineer, but while I’m visiting classrooms, if I can just help one kid from each classroom see that science and technology is cool, I’ve done something amazing for Israel. That would be much more bigger than just sending an unmanned spacecraft to the moon.
There aren’t too many idols today for kids when it comes to STEM, scientific technology, engineering, or math education. But once they start seeing engineers and scientists on prime time, it could change everything.
UAV Coach: How far along are you with SpaceIL? What do daily operations look like?
Yariv Bash: Roughly three years ago, we brought in a professional CEO with 40 years of experience in the aerospace and high-tech industry to manage the day-to-day operations of SpaceIL. Today we’ve got more than 40 employees working on a daily basis and building the spacecraft.
We’ve just received the structure, and a few weeks ago we got through installation of the secondary thrusters, the navigation thrusters. Now we’re starting the main propulsion system.
Simultaneously, we’re testing all the thruster components and the radio transceivers and working on the entire command and control part, the ground control station of the spacecraft, which will enable us to control the spacecraft once it goes into orbit next year.
UAV Coach: What are your predictions for the future of the drone industry?
Yariv Bash: When we look at the drone industry today, I think you actually see two different industries. There’s the flying selfie stick camera drone. These are your DJIs—the Phantoms, the Mavics. I think over on that side of the industry we’re getting close to or have already passed the high point.
But when it comes to industrial grade drones—the inspection drones, the delivery drones—we’re just getting started. There’s a huge market potential that’s currently untapped, mostly because of regulations, but also because of some remaining technological barriers that have to be overcome.
I think that in the next two to three years we’re going to see a huge boom when it comes to industrial drones. I think that the economy and the entire industry is going to push the FAA into releasing new drone regulations, and it’s going to happen even faster than what we think is possible.
I’m just waiting for disruption to come in on-demand delivery service. Once the industry starts pressing—and we’re already seeing this with Amazon—pressing and pushing and educating the market on what drone deliveries can do, that pressure will start building up, and we’re going to see results. We’re going to see the regulatory framework change even faster than what we imagined possible.
UAV Coach: We just have one last question. With so many cameras in the sky, do you think we’ll start getting proof of the existence of UFOs?
Yarive Bash: I don’t. Today you’ve got, I don’t know, maybe 1,000 times more cameras than people had 20 years ago. But the number of UFO sightings hasn’t gone up. Maybe it’s even gone down. If there were UFOs out there, you think you’d be capturing the UFO from multiple angles. So it looks like there probably aren’t any UFOs out there, or we’d have more and better pictures of them with all these flying cameras around, wouldn’t we?
And as time passes, I think this is only going to be more so the case, that we have all these flying cameras and no further proof of UFOs.