Japan Post closer to replacing snail mail with autonomous drones

As Alphabet's Wing wants to fly millions of small packages by 2024

Japan Post is closer to realizing its ambition of delivering letters – like actual, physical letters – by drone. It's futuristic and retro all at once.

The postal service announced [PDF in Japanese] its drone delivery plans in December 2022, revealing that it had teamed with a local drone-maker named ACSL that offers a craft with level four autonomy and the ability to carry payloads of up to five kilograms (about 11 pounds).

ACSL yesterday revealed it had been awarded an airworthiness certificate for that craft and is permitted to use it for out-of-sight flights in inhabited areas. Test flights are planned later this month.

Japanese media reports those flights could carry actual letters, as Japan Post looks for a way to cope with shortages of workers and the time required to deliver to remote mountainous locations.

In other drone delivery news, Alphabet's Wing business unit last week detailed the Wing Delivery Network – a logistics platform the outfit claims "can support high-volume drone delivery across a major metro area or a more sparsely populated region."

"Up to this point, the industry has been fixated on drones themselves – designing, testing, and iterating on aircraft, rather than finding the best way to harness an entire fleet for efficient delivery," wrote Wing CEO Adam Woodworth. "We see drone delivery at scale looking more like an efficient data network than a traditional transportation system."

"For businesses and other organizations, building drone delivery into the last mile can be as simple as ordering drones, turning them on, and letting them connect to the network," Woodworth wrote, adding "our pilots can oversee fleets of autonomous delivery drones to ensure they're operating, and interoperating, safely and efficiently."

The CEO suggested the Delivery Network could be flying by 2024 when "we expect our system to be capable of handling millions of deliveries for millions of consumers at a lower cost per delivery than ground transportation can achieve for fast delivery of small packages." ®

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