Rakuten launching deliveries to real customers by drone

Rakuten have stolen a march on their western competitors with the announcement of drone deliveries to actual customers, albeit limited to those playing on a golf course where there are no annoying buildings in the way and a limited number of pedestrians and vehicles.

From the 9th of May, the new “Sora Raku” service will be used to deliver golf equipment such as new balls when you’ve hooked your last one into a lake, snacks, beverages and other items to players at pickup points on the golf course.

With the service, players can use the dedicated Android app to place orders, confirm the total possible order quantity, and receive push notifications when preparations begin for dispatch and when the drone commences its journey. To use the service players will need to log in using their Rakuten Member IDs, and can choose to pay by either credit card or with Rakuten Super Points.

It’s not as slick as Amazon’s proposed Prime Air as packages are not only packed by hand but in the supplied video are tediously loaded by hand into the drone’s cargo bay. Perhaps I’m being a little harsh on Rakuten here though, it would be tricky to construct a full warehouse operation on a golf course with conveyor belts to pass the parcels to the drones.

Once the parcel is onboard, staff initiate the delivery process from the control screen on a dedicated tablet, and the drone flies to the pickup point autonomously. After landing, the drone automatically releases the load and returns automatically to the takeoff point.

Initially, the service will be offered for a period of one month at the Camel Golf Resort, a golf course in Chiba Prefecture. Based on user feedback and analysis of the operation, Rakuten will look into the continuation and expansion of the service, as well as its implementation at other golf courses.

By offering the Sora Raku drone delivery service at golf courses, Rakuten hopes to provide a new shopping experience and make drones more widely accepted among consumers.

For the future Rakuten is looking into the utilization of drones for deliveries in sparsely populated areas and mountainous regions, in transporting supplies during disasters and in its e-commerce businesses, including Rakuten Ichiba, and aims to accumulate technical and operational expertise through running the service and put it to use in developing further innovative drone delivery services.