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Delivery drones designed for bad weather heading to affluent Norwegian ski resort

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A drone delivery company is promising to be the savior of the suburbs as it launches the longest-range drone deliveries in the world.

Aviant, a Norwegian startup, is launching its first big commercial venture in the affluent Norwegian ski resort town of Lillehammer, where drones will deliver groceries, takeaway food, and medicines to the town’s 4,000 residents. 

Drone enthusiasts and on-the-ground competitors like Uber Eats and Deliveroo will be watching Aviant’s progress in Lillehammer with a keen eye, and probably a healthy dose of skepticism, given the long uphill battle for the rollout of drone delivery technology. 

Drones take to Norwegian skies

Aviant launched during the pandemic in 2020 when its drones were used to deliver urgent medicines to residents during lockdown conditions. The group raised €1 million ($1.1 million) from state-backed Innovation Norway last year as part of that venture.

It has carried out 4,000 flights covering more than 24,800 miles in the four years since its launch. Its 17 kilometer radius is regarded as the longest in the world for a commercial delivery drone.

Lars Erik Fagernæs, Aviant’s CEO, told Fortune his company is now working on scaling its operations in Lillehammer with a view to expanding across Europe.

Aviant’s drones—named Kyte—aren’t likely to pop up in major cities anytime soon. Fagernæs says sprawling metropolises leave drones with less of an obvious appeal for customers. Apartment dwellers, for example, will still need to go to their front door to collect a package.

There’s also the issue of getting approval to operate in high-density areas where safety risks abound.

Instead, the group is focusing on suburbs. It picked Lillehammer as its first commercial rollout because it has the highest density of cabins in Norway, according to Fagernæs.

“When you’re at cabin, you don’t want to drive for 30 minutes to 60 minutes in the winter cold with very bad infrastructure.”

Lillehammer’s wealthy contingent of residents—of which Fagernæs includes oligarchs—was another motivation behind trialing the drones in the town.

The company doesn’t have carte blanche in Europe, though it’s ahead of Amazon’s offering. Aviant is competing with Dublin-based Manna, which has signed an agreement to create the UK’s first drone-guided food delivery service

Aviant has regulatory approval to operate in EU airspace, and Fagernæs says the company has several agreements in place with third parties that are yet to be announced, including the “Walmarts of Europe,” he says.

Drones’ uphill battles

The idea of drone deliveries for consumers has long been in the works, first touted by Amazon founder and then CEO Jeff Bezos in 2013.

But logistical issues have meant a steep uphill battle for their widespread use. 

As outlined in a New York Times article last year, drone deliveries involve packages being dropped from a height. That means valuables typically can’t be included in deliveries. They’re also limited to the size and weight they can withstand. 

Aviant is at least making headways with drones’ well-documented problems with the elements. Its drones are designed to survive in temperatures as low as 5 degrees Fahrenheit (-15 degrees Celsius), and can travel through winds reaching 12 meters per second, or 26 miles per hour.

The company also developed a “winch” system for its Kyte drones that its CEO says will allow customers to receive “everything from medicines to eggs.”

“We really wanted to avoid being heavily restricted by weather, distance, and payload,” Fagernæs says.

Delivery drivers’ futures in the spotlight

Announcements like those by Aviant are a reminder that the long-term prospects of delivery drivers look increasingly gloomy.

Not long after imposing a historic wage agreement for its drivers, United Parcel Service (UPS) was able to carry out its biggest-ever layoffs in the company’s 116-year history. UPS CEO Carol Tomé said artificial technologies played a part in the culling of 12,000 managerial positions.

Autonomous vehicles also threaten drivers’ futures. U.S. retailer Kroger signed a multi-year agreement with delivery company Gatik last year that will see customer orders delivered to various retail locations throughout the day.

“I think with delivery, it’s just a question of time before transportation is being done autonomously,” says Fagernæs. 

“There’s no reason why a person should sit in a car or drive a truck, transporting goods between two places.”

Still, as drone delivery companies like Aviant and Manna deal with long learning curves and stay away from major cities, Uber Eats and Deliveroo drivers might be safe for now.

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