Delivery Drone Tees Off at Japanese Golf Course

A Japanese golf course is testing a drone delivery service that delivers refreshments to golfers while they’re on the course. The Sora Raku drone delivery service was developed by online shopping giant Rakuten and Autonomous Control Systems Laboratory.

Drones carrying hamburgers and drinks have begun flying over a golf course in Japan as part of a unique drone delivery service.

Sora Raku is a drone delivery service launched by online shopping giant Rakuten and Autonomous Control Systems Laboratory (ACSL), a spin-off of Chiba University. The first consumer service of its kind, Sora Raku will begin May 9, 2016 as a month-long pilot project at a golf course in Chiba Prefecture east of Tokyo.

Golfers can order about 100 items, including hamburgers, snacks and gear such as golf balls and tees, on their smartphones through a dedicated Android app. A Rakuten ID is necessary to use the app.

During a demonstration, the Tenku drone developed by Rakuten and ACSL took off from an area near the clubhouse at Camel Golf Resort and flew up to a height of 30 meters over a grove of trees to a landing zone. It automatically recognized a large “R” designating the landing zone, landed and released a pink box containing a burger and a bottle of water. It didn’t seem to be affected by gusts buffeting the links.

The Tenku drone and the box it delivers are designed with a pink color scheme, a touch intended to make drones less frightening

The Tenku drone flew, landed and released the package autonomously. The six-rotor drone can carry about 2 kilograms and can fly in a stable fashion in strong wind. It has a top speed of approximately 4 meters per second.

“This is the first step in the industrial revolution of the sky,” said ACSL President Kenzo Nonami, an engineering professor at Chiba University, adding that Japan mustn’t lose out to other countries when it comes to drones like it did with computers and smartphones.

Delivery Drone Landing ZoneThe Tenku delivery drone automatically recognized the landing zone at Camel Golf Resort.

“The government has started to position the drone business as one of the strategic industries for Japan,” said Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani. “It’s being surprisingly aggressive and we are very encouraged.”

The Tenku drone and the box it delivers are designed with a pink color scheme, a touch intended to make drones less frightening, Mikitani said. He recalled an incident a year ago in which a drone landed on the Japanese prime minister’s office in a protest against Japan’s nuclear policies. The operator received a suspended prison sentence and new legislation restricting drones was introduced.

Delivery Drone Android AppGolfers can use their smartphones to order about 100 items. A Rakuten ID is required to use the Android app.

The regulations are more lax when it comes to sparsely populated areas such as the region of Chiba Prefecture that’s home to the golf course. Chiba is home to Narita Airport, an international gateway for Tokyo, and has positioned itself at the forefront of drone developments in Japan with a plan to introduce drone deliveries to high-rise residences in the next few years.

Rakuten invested in ACSL, known for its Mini Surveyor brand of industrial drones, earlier in 2016, and has yet to decide if and how it will expand the Sora Raku service. ACSL was also involved in Japan’s first urban drone delivery (watch below) in which a six-rotor drone delivered a bottle of wine to a group of spectators at a park.

About the Author

Tim Hornyak · Tim Hornyak is a freelance science and technology journalist based in Tokyo. Born in Montreal, Hornyak moved to Japan in 1999 and worked for Japanese news organizations before coauthoring guidebooks to Japan and Tokyo for Lonely Planet. He is also the author of Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots. He has worked as Tokyo correspondent for IDG News, producing articles and videos for websites such as Computerworld, Macworld and Networkworld, and has contributed to media such as Scientific American, National Geographic News and MIT Technology Review.
Contact Tim Hornyak:  ·  View More by Tim Hornyak.
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