Drone teams up with Kiwis

Trade Me, New Zealand’s largest online marketplace, is funding trials of delivery drones involving Flirtey, the Australian-designed company that has a research partnership with the University of Nevada, Reno.

Flirtey CEO Matthew Sweeney said his company was excited to launch its technology in New Zealand, but did not disclose the costs associated with the trials of the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

The trial represented the first application of Flirtey’s new generation of commercial delivery drones and the demonstration showed the efficacy of the technology in finding a missing person with New Zealand’s national search and rescue organization

“We’ve been working hard behind the scenes for over a year so it is exciting to launch the first trial together with Trade Me (and) helping out with New Zealand’s Land Search and Rescue organization,” said Sweeney.

While launched in Sydney, Flirtey last year granted an equity stake to UNR, a leading research center for Unmanned Autonomous Systems. In exchange, the university is providing access to its R&D labs for design, manufacture and research collaboration plus its indoor flight-testing facilities and supplies graduate students to work with the company.

According to Sweeney, Flirtey is the world’s first commercial drone delivery service and was founded with the vision of being a market leader in four industries — humanitarian, courier delivery, fast food and online retail.

The New Zealand trial “represents a springboard for Flirtey to launch a world leading commercial drone delivery service”, said Sweeney.

The demonstration follows Flirtey’s discussions with the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority, which Sweeney said had an appetite for New Zealand to be “one of the first movers” in terms of practical drone use. “While other companies have been engrossed in regulatory wrestling around the world, Flirtey has laid the groundwork for our drone delivery service with the support of the Civil Aviation Authority,” said Sweeney.

Tom Bass, the company’s chief operating officer said, “Flirtey’s initial trials will be run entirely within the current New Zealand Civil Aviation Rules. As Flirtey’s capabilities mature and a safety record is established, operations are envisaged to expand into populated areas and beyond line of sight to roll out safe drone delivery technology.” 

Closer to home, “The collaboration with the university is an important step in Flirtey’s growth by allowing us to use their facilities and test Flirteys on campus,” Sweeney said. “Nevada is one of just six locations in the U.S. approved by the FAA for UAV testing, and with its close proximity to Silicon Valley, budding tech scene and the state’s strong aeronautical history, Reno is positioned to become the biggest little city in the world of UAV space.”

The drone delivery company has hired engineers from the University’s Unmanned Autonomous Systems minor degree program, which combines robotics, computer science and mechanical design in the College of Engineering, establishing the new course of study. Classes include robotics, control systems, sensing and instrumentation, fluid and air dynamics, computer vision and artificial intelligence — subject material that employers want graduates to know.

“The opportunities this minor degree program brings to student education and competitiveness are exciting,” Manos Maragakis, dean of the College of Engineering, said. “Such a program will be instrumental in enhancing the state’s ability to increase its workforce in an area that has been strategically identified as one of its economic development priorities.”


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