In last week’s “Let’s Talk Drones” chat room, the audience could see a continuous delivery of Flytrex drones: from ordering via a phone app to delivery of a hot Starbuck coffee drink at the Flytrex and Causey Flight Operations Center in Fayetteville, NC. The whole process was so quick – and so easy – that there is no doubt that consumers will be welcoming the delivery of drones as soon as they become available. DRONELIFE goes into depth with Yariv Bash, Co-Founder and CEO of Flytrex, on delivering drones to a backyard near you.
The Israeli-owned company is pioneering the delivery of backyard drones in the United States
By Jim Magill
While drone delivery of critical medical equipment and supplies is becoming increasingly common in the U.S., it still seems like a vision of the distant future for a drone to deliver a meal to your garden from your favorite hamburger spot.
Flytrex, a Tel Aviv-based drone delivery startup, partnered with Walmart last fall to launch a backyard drone delivery pilot in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Eventually, the company is hoping to partner with other vendors, including fast food restaurants, to find a quick delivery service for their products.
“You can’t bring a hamburger to someone’s home with a truck. You need something very affordable and something that can do a lot of deliveries in an hour, ”said Flytrex co-founder and CEO Yariv Bash in an interview. “This is the system we are building.”
In its pilot program in North Carolina, the specially designed Flytrex drones can carry payloads of up to 6.6 pounds over a distance of 3.5 miles and back to home base. Customers can choose to have deliveries made in their backyard or to a public delivery point.
“All you have to do is install the Flytrex app, select the products you want, enter your credit card number and enter your home address. If your home address is supported, you can bring it to your garden. If not, you have the option to choose the public place, ”said Bash.
Once the address has been entered, Flytrex, in collaboration with Walmart, picks up the selected items and starts the drone. The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flies autonomously to the drop-off point, where it hovers at a height of 80 feet and safely lowers the purchased items to the ground with a cable. Bash said the drone delivery company has been working with the Federal Aviation Administration for four years to get permission to fly over homes and make deliveries in suburban areas.
In November, the FAA published airworthiness criteria for the proposed certification of the Flytrex system and that of nine other drone operators. “This is a critical step in enabling more complex drone operations beyond what is allowed under the Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule (Part 107), including package delivery,” the agency said in a statement.
Cloud-based operating system
According to Bash, the company can afford to operate economically in part because its drones are very simple, light and easy to use. They do not carry cameras, but are controlled by a sophisticated cloud-based system that controls the flights in real time.
“There is no joystick. There is no vertical cockpit, no remote backup, ”he said. “If you enter your home address, the system knows whether this address is supported, and if so, where exactly is the place in your garden where we will deliver your package.
Of course, a human operator retains the ability to take full control of the drone in the event a problem arises. “It can instruct the drone to return home or land in a designated safe area if necessary, but the system is also fairly autonomous,” said Bash.
The UAV system has several built-in redundant functions designed to operate safely in a sparsely populated suburban environment. “We can have a loss of engine, loss of battery, loss of GPS,” he said. “If everything goes down and the drone flies out of the suggested flight path or falls or overturns, we have an independent system that can identify this. A siren sounds, the engines turn off and a parachute is deployed.
To ensure safe operation, the parachute system alone was tested in 45 different scenarios, with monitors from third-party providers being observed. “We love to help the FAA keep the sky safe,” said Bash.
Moon shots and drone deliveries
Even before Bash rose to the challenge of pioneering backyard drone delivery, Bash had a long history of facing seemingly impossible challenges. A trained electronics engineer, he worked with the Israel Defense Ministry for about a decade helping develop “a lot of cool technologies” like signal ownership and reverse engineering.
“In 2010 I had a crazy idea to send an Israeli spaceship to the moon,” he said. Along with co-founders Kfir Damari and Yonatan Weintraub, Bash founded SpaceIL, a private, not-for-profit company that raised approximately $ 100 million. “From there we built the first private moon mission.”
It took the ragged space start-up almost a decade to build the spaceship that crashed on the moon in 2019. Even though the spaceship crashed, Bash regards the mission as a success. For one, it made Israel the seventh nation to reach the surface of the moon. It was also the first time any nation or private company attempted to reach the moon on their first attempt at launch, rather than completing a series of missions near the moon.
While still working on the SpaceIL project, Bash and a partner founded Flytrex in 2016 to focus on his dream of making backyard drone delivery safe and affordable. For the first two years, the company focused on developing GPS tracking systems for drones.
In August 2018, Flytrex was operating in Reykjavik, Iceland and was the first company in the world to deliver a delivery by drone directly to a customer’s backyard. According to Bash, Flytrex chose Island as its testing site because that nation’s regulations on drone operations are less stringent.
“Over there we fly beyond line of sight, over a city, over highways, things that are still groundbreaking in many other parts of the world,” said Bash.
As the company is still in the R&D phase of its US operations, it is currently manufacturing its drones and related systems in Tel Aviv. However, Flytrex is building a production line in Liberty, North Carolina, near Raleigh, where the company hopes to begin manufacturing FAA-certified drones later this year.
Bash said that after Flytrex received drone type certification from the FAA, plans to expand into states outside of North Carolina. “We will be looking for local operators to operate the fleet in each state. Hopefully we will see a very large use of drone deliveries in the next year. “