A remote First Nation is going to use drone delivery to cut the cost of groceries
As Google partners with businesses to deliver burritos on drones in Australia, a Canadian experiment in airborne delivery is about to take off — with a very different goal.
The Australian drone experiment aims to further the commercial potential of drone delivery. The Canadian experiment aims to lower the cost of basic goods in remote Northern communities.
"It's not really about trying to move a pizza to your front door two minutes faster; it's really about 'let's help people live better lives,'" says Tony Di Benedetto, CEO of Drone Delivery Canada.
To do that, his company partnered with the Moose Cree First Nation, a remote community located on the island of Moose Factory at the southern tip of James Bay.
High food prices in the North
During warmer months, goods and supplies have to be brought in by helicopter. That doesn't come cheap.
As a result, groceries cost roughly 45 per cent more in Moose Cree First Nation than in communities to the south like Timmins, Ont., according to Stan Kapashesit, the director of economic development for the First Nation.
"A loaf of bread would probably cost me about six dollars. And the pricing compared from us to even as close as Cochrane and Timmins, we're almost paying double," Kapashesit says.
Drones must be tested before scaling up
The community plans to use drones to bring in food, mail and medical supplies from nearby Moosonee. Eventually, the hope is to turn Moose Cree into a "drone hub" that could service communities even further north.
Kapashesit says it would take 5-10 minutes for a drone to fly from Moosonee to Moose Factory.
Helicopters, which are now used to fly goods across the river, cost $1,600 to $1,800 per hour to rent, Kapashesit says.
"We're hoping that [drones will cost] a fraction of that."
Drones will carry payloads of 4.5 kilograms in upcoming test flights, but Kapashesit says there are drones capable of carrying 50 times as much weight. Those drones could be used by the community once a delivery system is in place.
The testing process will also help optimize the drones' cold-weather performance. Kapashesit says temperatures of -30 C are common in his community.
Kapashesit says the drones should stop upon detecting objects in their flight paths, which would prevent them from crashing into airborne wildlife like geese.
Expanding to other First Nations Communities
The drones may also lead to more jobs for the community, since infrastructure for the network will need to be built, Kapashesit says.
"In the not-too-far future, we're hoping that we can have drone deliveries from here [Moose Factory] to those communities north of us like Fort Albany, Kashechewan, Attawapiskat."
Kapashesit adds that drones could be used to deliver supplies in emergency situations too.
To hear the full interview with Stan Kapashesit, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.