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A drone-based delivery service for general consumers on golf courses

29 April 2016

Rakuten announced the launch of “Sora Raku,” a delivery service for general consumers which utilises drones.

Image courtesy of Rakuten

The service will be available from May 9 this year. The first application of Sora Raku will be on a golf course, where it will be used to deliver golf equipment, 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. 

On the operator’s side, once orders have been received, staff waiting at a dedicated depot pack the goods into a delivery box and load it onto the drone. The staff then initiates 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.  

The drone to be used in the service is the “Tenku,” a dedicated drone developed specifically for Sora Raku by Rakuten and Autonomous Control Systems Laboratory Ltd. (ACSL), which Rakuten invested in in March this year, based on an existing ACSL drone. In addition to the new load-release feature, the drone also utilises image recognition technology from the Rakuten Institute of Technology for landing. Tenku is equipped with an autopilot system developed domestically by ACSL and boasts highly stable flight performance, even in strong winds. The drone also employs a design that makes it highly visible even on a golf course.

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. In addition, Rakuten is looking into the utilisation 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.

Video courtesy of Rakuten.

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