Starting on Wednesday, residents of central Israel will see and hear delivery drones abuzz over their homes for the first time, as the country expands its pilot program over urban centers with hundreds of test flights planned over the next two weeks.
The first test flights began in Hadera in March, and this week expanded to the outskirts of Tel Aviv, Herzliya and Ramat Hasharon, with dozens of drones to fly over the cities' populated areas on Wednesday.
The pilot program is testing deliveries of consumer goods – for the first time in the country, drones will bring necessities, such as food and pharmacy supplies, to consumers who order them. The drones will not land outside their homes, though; customers will have to pick up their deliveries from designated landing zones.
“Through a combination of regulation and technology, we are creating the infrastructure that will allow companies to supply such services," said Daniella Partem, the head of the center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution at the Innovation Authority.
The delivery drone test project has included some 6,300 flights so far; in 2020, they were used to air-drop medications and COVID tests, mostly to medical centers. About 3,000 more flights expected in the coming weeks, with hundreds each day. The aircraft will take off from and land in a number of locations, including Tel Aviv's Hayarkon Park and Tel Baruch.
One of the project's concerns is the noise the buzzing drones generate. “In every demo, there are challenges," Partem said. "Noise is a relative thing, I’m not certain that a drone makes more noise than cars or garbage trucks, But we need to pay attention to this."
As for safety concerns, Partem said that there have been a couple of issues thus far, but none of them caused "injury to people or property, or even to the drones themselves. We are careful and the demonstrations are gradual, and we feel safe flying over an urban area,” she added. Another challenge is the weather – the tests flights are only planned for clear conditions. On Sunday morning, it drizzled in the center of the country, which temporarily halted the flights.
A number of startups in the field are participating in the test, after garnering the support of the Innovation Authority. The budget for the project is about 12 million shekels ($3.7 million), with half coming from the government and the rest from the participating companies.
The test program is part of a government project called the Israel Urban Air Mobility Initiative (known by its Hebrew acronym Na’ama), under the auspices of the government’s Israel Innovation Authority.
The project was established by the state-owned Ayalon Highways company, in cooperation with the Transportation Ministry, Civil Aviation Authority, and the Alternative Fuels Administration and Smart Mobility initiative in the Prime Minister’s Office, with the goal of opening Israel’s skies to delivery drones and to create the regulatory and commercial conditions for the Israeli drone sector in coming years.