The drone rises quickly off the launch pad, hovers briefly and then whines out over the waters of Lake Simcoe on a mission to deliver masks and hand sanitizer to a First Nations community, and maybe inspire its youth in a new direction.
The belly of the little aircraft is modestly sized – roughly the same as a case of wine – and can carry only about 4.5 kilograms of cargo on each flight. But these trips can reduce reliance on the ferry, a roughly 15-minute ride connecting the mainland and island parts of the community east of Barrie, Ont. And it may prove an important air link in the shoulder seasons, when there’s too much ice for boats but not enough to drive over.
The project also comes as the COVID-19 pandemic sparks an explosion in home delivery, a surge in demand that drone advocates say ultimately could see products carried through the skies.
This possible future has caught the eye of some real estate developers, who are considering how to make it possible for drones to land on the roofs of their buildings.
“We have seven projects that are in various stages of construction and … we’re actually looking at ways to have a landing pad for drones,” said Scott McLellan, senior vice-president at developer Plaza Corp. “The drone drops eight packages up on the roof and sends an e-mail to our concierge and says, delivery on the roof,” he added, painting a hypothetical picture. “The concierge goes up, gets the packages and brings them down to the storage area in the lobby.”
This goal, which drone boosters say could revolutionize cities by reducing delivery-truck traffic, still faces a number of hurdles. It’s also not clear how much could realistically be delivered without overwhelming city skies. But progress is being made toward a future that may see fewer packages being driven around.
In the United States, the FAA gave regulatory approval this summer for Amazon Prime Air, which bills itself as “a future delivery system.”
Wing, operated by Google parent company Alphabet, says it has made 100,000 deliveries in four cities in Finland, the United States and Australia, including a number of “democracy sausages" traditionally sold as a fundraiser at Aussie polling sites. Various pilot projects are operating in China.
There have also been advances in Canada. Montreal General Hospital did test delivery flights last year carrying simulated blood and B.C.-based InDro Robotics earlier this month said it had received regulatory approval for commercial drone delivery flights.