Japan has started delivering groceries by drones to Fukushima residents
Japan is taking humanitarian aid in disaster zones to – quite literally – new heights as it begins to roll out a drone delivery service to help those affected by the disaster in Fukushima.
After an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear reactor meltdown cleared out Japan’s Fukushima prefecture in 2011, residents have only just begun to move back into the region. Odaka, one town affected by the disaster, has been hit the hardest as its rural location and ageing population mean it’s left in a situation where many residents can’t easily get food or the household products they need.
To help solve this problem, Japanese convenience store chain Lawson and ecommerce firm Rakuten have teamed up to offer drone deliveries to the town. This isn’t quite Amazon Prime Air, which is intended to land on your front lawn and drop your delivery off, but Lawson/Rakuten’s drone will take goods from Lawson’s Minamisoma-Odaka store in Minamisoma City and drop it to the mobile stores for customers to pick up.
The service is set to be the first of it’s kind in Japan and could become the de-facto way to deliver goods and aid to those in hard-to-reach areas.
Speaking to the BBC, Lawson spokesperson Ken Mochimaru explained that “[Odaka] is starting to regain its former liveliness as its residents continue to return home.”Odaka residents began to return to the region in 2016 following the all-clear from the Japanese government’s decontamination efforts.
“However, improving the shopping environment for daily necessities, food and other products represents a high-priority challenge.”
Odaka residents can order hot food, such as Kara-age Kun, as well as household items. Deliveries from the Lawson store to homes will be made twice a week. The service is an evolution of Lawson’s current mobile sales initiative that sees miniature delivery vans going around towns like an ice cream van for people to do their shopping from. It tends to operate in rural, mountainous regions or in elder-care facilities in cities and towns.
In a test delivery that took place yesterday, a drop of fried chicken and croquettes made their way to a 70-year-old man from the region.
The drone-to-store service is aimed to help Lawson stores obtain harder-to-find or perishable items faster than by traditional delivery methods that could take time to get to more hazardous areas. Residents place an order with Lawson’s mobile outlets where an employee will then call the Minamisoma-Odaka store and have the item delivered by drone to the customer. Essentially, it means these mobile stores don’t have to cart around less-popular items, yet customers can still get the goods they want.
The drone-to-store service is aimed to help Lawson stores obtain harder-to-find or perishable items faster than by traditional delivery methods that could take time to get to more hazardous areas.
While this may sound like the future, it’s worth noting that Lawson and Rakuten are still only doing this on a trial basis for six months before reassessing its usefulness. It’s also not sure how often it’ll be able to fly the drone out to Odaka’s store as it can be affected by adverse weather conditions like heavy rain, wind or extremely high or low temperatures. Seeing as Odaka is located on the Pacific coast of Japan’s Honshu island, and is surrounded by mountainous regions, it’s likely to have a diverse weather pattern. So, deciding to test a drone service during the winter months, in such a tricky terrain will be quite the test for Lawson and Rakuten. Hopefully, for the people of Odaka, they can pull it off. Who knows, if they manage to, perhaps this’ll be the future of shopping for many.