France is crazy about tech startups. They're popping up in cities and towns across the country, not just in Paris, so this month the French postal service began a novel program to use drones to deliver supplies to a startup incubator in a remote Provence town.
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Once a week, a delivery drone flies from Saint-Maximin-La-Sainte-Beaume to Pourrières, a town of just 4,000 people. Its destination: the campus of Atechsys, which hosts training and research facilities for more than a dozen companies that build drones.
Planning for the mail delivery service, a partnership between the incubator and logistics company DPD, started back in 2014 and was intended to solve the last-mile problem: how do you get time-sensitive packages from a mail distribution center to a remote town without traveling over slow, bumpy country roads?
After more than two years of testing, the finished drone entered commercial service in December, thanks to approval from France's civil aviation authority. It has a range of 12 miles and a maximum payload of six pounds. It's also equipped with an automatic parachute to bring it safely to the ground if something should go wrong.
With a tiny payload and once-a-week operation, the drone can't realistically deliver all of the incubator's mail. But the hope is that the idea will catch on in other remote areas, where regular mail service is expensive and impractical.
The drone delivery concept is catching on in other countries, too. Domino's pizzas arrive via drone in New Zealand. Amazon performed its first flight to deliver a package to a customer in the UK last week, after years of trying to get authorities in the US to approve such flights. Approve them they did, though, and 7-Eleven has concluded a month-long experiment to deliver over-the-counter drugs and fast food items to customers in Nevada.