TOKYO -- Japan Post thinks drones can help it cut costs. So next year it will start using the flying objects to carry mail from post office to post office.
The postal service also plans to test self-driving cars by the end of the current fiscal year, through March.
The company hopes to fully introduce drones for transportation between some post offices by the end of the 2020s. It is also mulling whether to use of the unmanned aircraft to make home deliveries, pending the expected relaxation of Japan's drone regulations.
Initially, drones will be used to carry things to remote post offices that are otherwise expensive to get to, like mountainous areas and remote islands. And since drone regulations are not as strict in sparsely populated areas, the postal service will be able to experiment with the contraptions.
In the initial phase, drones will be used to carry mail from big post offices to smaller ones on the fringes of delivery areas.
After developing viable technologies during this phase, the company will consider using drones to deliver parcels to homes.
The company has been experimenting with drones that use wires to hold parcels, which are released by remote control once the parcels have touched down.
Japan's government envisions drones being widely used in cities sometime in the 2020s.
Parcel delivery companies Yamato Transport and Sagawa Express, which are experiencing labor shortages and rising expenses, are also considering drones as a solution.
Japan Post hopes to expedite its drone experiment and work out practical technological solutions. It faces several hurdles:
- Uncertainty regarding Japan's strict drone regulations. Apparently, new rules are being worked out.
- Preventing drones from hitting power cables and other obstacles.
- How to make sure deliveries have reached the intended recipient.