A new frontier of delivery is coming to Canada, and a Salt Spring Island company is the first to take flight.
InDro Robotics, a private firm specializing in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), announced last week that they had been approved by the Canadian Transport Agency (CTA) to operate a domestic air service, using drones for cargo carriage.
Philip Reece, CEO of InDro Robotics, says the process started five or six years ago when engineers first started experimenting with long-distance flights with drones carrying a payload.
After his company demonstrated to Transport Canada that they could perform the task, they moved into licensing discussions.
“It was quite a process, both from our side and from theirs, to fit new rules into how it was going to be done,” Reece said in an interview with Victoria Buzz.
“It was decided we would fit into the old rules, and basically became an airline, an air carrier.”
The new license will allow an InDro Heavy Lift Wayfinder Drone to ship increased cargo over longer distances.
InDro says they have approval from Transport Canada for distances up to 25 kilometres, and are hoping to expand that to 200 kilometres in the near future with improvements in battery technology.
“This new license means we can ship anything up to 10KG (other than people and animals) – important documents, artwork, jewels – basically anything a manned aircraft could,” said Reece.
Deliveries have already begun, with drones flying medical supplies between hospitals on the Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island.
In 2019, InDro Robotics was able to test drone delivery of emergency medications in cooperation with Canada Post and London Drugs, travelling six kilometres in 11 minutes from Duncan to Salt Spring Island.
The company also has plans to work with UBC, Canada Post and Rogers Communications to begin “cluster” deliveries to community mailboxes.
For those community deliveries, Reece says they would install a box resembling a telephone booth for the drone to make deliveries.
“It will land on this, deposit its cargo,” he said. “The top of the box receives a signal from the drone, slides it down, and from the outside you have a door you can open.
The boxes themselves are installed just like a community mail box. They do need to be bolted, and they do have a small amount of power, but they can pick that up from solar.”
Reece says there are three main avenues of application for the technology:
- commercial to commercial, where a drone could transport supplies from one chain outlet to another
- general delivery, where a drone could take a package from a large-load craft like a Harbour Air seaplane (another partnership InDro is working on) and transport it to a remote area
- cluster delivery, where drones make non-urgent deliveries to community mailboxes
While it’s still early days for the industry, Reece says he expects his company and others to grow rapidly, and looks forward to forging new partnerships and sharing innovation.
“We were the first in Canada to receive Beyond Visual Line of Sight licensing a few years ago, since then a few other companies have demonstrated that as well,” said Reece.
“It’s going to be a huge industry, there’s no need for competition, it’s more about collaboration.”