Innovation Profile: Flirtey, The Future of Commercial Drone Delivery

By Maxwel Stocking


In 2011, four friends at the University of Technology – Sydney raised money to buy 300 textbooks and rent them out to users, generally students. That year they rented all 300 textbooks and had 18,000 hits on their website. Zookal was born. Since then, Zookal was has grown to service nearly 100,000 students throughout Australia. It is an online internet service that rents and sells textbooks from its website and ships them directly to the buyer in 2 – 3 days, similar to its counterpart in the United States, Chegg. However, recognizing that the world is becoming increasingly obsessed with instant gratification, they have come to realize that buyers generally don’t want to wait 2 – 3 days for their book to arrive. So they found a way to decrease that time to 2 – 3 minutes.

This is where Flirtey comes into the picture. Flirtey is a delivery drone technology company that can make shipments a lot faster and a lot cheaper. As of 2013, Zookal teamed up with Flirtey to create a textbook delivery service via drone. The business model is simple: Buyers will order a textbook from the Flirtey smartphone app, a drone will fly from the distribution center to the location of the phone, lower the book via cable, drop it off to the buyer, and return to the distribution center. This decreases the shipping time and cost down dramatically. Their drones are completely autonomous and find the buyer using his/her GPS – enabled smartphone. They have built-in avoidance technology to avoid birds, trees, power lines, etc. Instead of using the more conventional quadcopter design, Flirtey’s drones are hexacopters. This allows the drone to stay aloft even if one of the rotors fails. It can also lose up to one of its batteries and still fly. Additionally, it features a fail-safe system that would cause it to slowly descend to the ground if the battery pack were to die.

Flirtey’s CEO, Matt Sweeny, stated that he believes there are three industries that will change the world in the next five years. Those are: UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) technology, 3D printing, and whoever can figure out the future of online use. On Flirtey’s website it reads, “This idea is not in the future anymore – it is now. The technology exists and the service is on its way. Flirteys in the sky will look as normal as delivery trucks.” On a similar note, Zookal founder said the 100 years ago the idea of putting someone in a steel box and flying them across nations and oceans probably sounded ridiculous but nowadays seeing an airplane in the sky is commonplace. Not only do they want to deliver textbooks but expand to food, clothes, and other industries.

There are some restrictions and flaws to Flirtey’s business model. Their drones are only able to deliver books within a 0.6 mile radius of the distribution centers. Therefore a big number of distribution centers is needed in order to have a wider and more economical impact. More importantly, commercial drone technology is a brand new concept for most people. Since the beginning of the new millennium, the public has heard all about the increasing amount of drone warfare occurring in the Middle East. To bring a “drone” into a neighborhood to deliver textbooks carries a certain negative connotation. The public fear for their safety, security and privacy. To respond to this, Zookal says its drones will not carry cameras and will not use commercial airspace. In Australia, it is legal to fly commercial drones under 122 meters.

One reason for such doubt from the public is that in many countries throughout the world, drone technology is vastly under regulated. Australia was one of the first countries in the world to legalize the use of drones for commercial reasons. Other countries, such as the United States, are waiting on policy makers (FAA) for new regulations on commercial and private use of drones. This is inhibiting American companies such as Amazon from furthering their plans for drone delivery services.

Flirtey is capitalizing on this advantage to optimize their drones while legal roadblocks exist for American companies. While growing their foothold in Australia, New Zealand, and soon-to-be Asia Flirtey recently secured a partnership to conduct high-tech testing at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR). When asked why Sweeny came to a “technological and regulatory minefield” he responded, “We developed the first generation of our drones in Australia. Now we will focus on three main areas of development: safety, range and payload. The other benefit is Nevada’s weather. With the desert and snow in the winter we’ll be able to really take our weather testing to the next level.” Not to mention, it allows them to be in direct competition with other companies testing the waters on drone delivery, such as Amazon PrimeAir and Google Project Wing, so that when the American market opens up, they will be waiting with their experienced drone technology to fill the markets needs.