Japan plans to use drone delivery to serve “depopulated areas” by 2018, and to offer drone delivery in Tokyo by the time the 2020 Olympic games are held there, the Japan Times reports.
A source from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration says that the Japanese government is working quickly to implement drone delivery to rural and depopulated areas of Japan, such as small islands. The government expects to incorporate a budget request for the service in next year’s budget. “The administration sees drone-related services as a pillar to support elderly people and to deliver relief goods in disaster areas,” says the Japan Times.
Japan is already trialling drone delivery of emergency kits such as medicines, defibrillators, and other medical supplies. The Emergency Medical and Disaster Coping Automated Drones Support System Utilization Promotion Council, or Edac, will run trials at the Kyushu University campus in Fukuoka and locations in Saga, testing drones for wind resistance and accuracy. Yusuke Enjoji, a government official in Saga, is CEO of the project. “Drones add more options for rescuers to reach patients,” says Enjoji. “Drones, the internet of things, self-driving cars and artificial intelligence … many cutting-edge technologies are emerging quickly…As depopulation is inevitable for Japan … we should take advantage of these to fill the labor shortage.”
Japan’s government will also help private sector companies to develop drone delivery services to residents in urban areas by 2020. While a Japanese government survey says that only 18% of local governments are positive about drone delivery, the Abe administration plans to collaborate with industry to further develop drone safety technology.
Drone delivery is already being tested in rural areas, but the potential use of drones represents a policy shift. Drone flight is severely restricted in most of Tokyo, after an incident last year when a protester landed a drone carrying radioactive material on the roof of the prime minister’s office. But the Abe administration has been very supportive of the drone industry, moving quickly to implement favorable commercial laws in order to bolster development. Prime Minister Abe has called drones part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and pledged that Japan would be in the forefront.