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Nassim covers the accounting and tax rounds for BRW, as well as general business news. She previously worked for The Age newspaper covering general news, state politics and economics.

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Textbook delivery: Zookal delivers students’ books using flying drones

Published 15 October 2013 06:33, Updated 26 November 2013 12:10

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Textbook delivery: Zookal delivers students’ books using flying drones

Zookal says its Flirtey delivery drones do not use commercial airspace.

Australian university students will be able to get textbooks delivered via flying drones, under a new partnership between textbook rental start-up Zookal and local Drone manufacturer Filtro.

US company Filtro is an investor in Zookal, an Australian start-up founded by four young Australians. Zookal this month raised $600,000 from leading Silicon Valley investors to fund its expansion into Asia’s $12 billion textbook sector and to make new technology investments.

Zookal will deliver its first textbook by a drone on October 23 at the University of Sydney, on the anniversary of the first human flight over 25 metres. But the drone delivery service, which will be called Flirtey, will not be available to Zookal customers until March.

Zookal delivers 300 textbooks a day to students across Australia. Drones will replace post delivery only if the customer requests it. Textbook delivery can occur within two to three minutes by drones, rather than two to three days by post.

Flirtey originated when Zookal co-founder and chief executive Ahmed Haider met Aussie entrepreneur Matthew Sweeny at university. What started out as a garage hobby soon became a business concept.

Sweeny has been working on a drone project with University of Sydney PhD engineering students. He is also behind another start-up software company called Zimbra, which is working closely with Zookal on its website algorithms.

“They built this drone that allowed delivery of packages,” Haider says. “We saw that as a huge opportunity.”

Drone technology has been gaining popularity, but until now has required remote control and human intervention. Flirtey will for the first time run entirely off a user’s mobile phone, allowing customers to track their parcel.

“Our biggest expense is shipping costs,” Haider says. “This is a more innovative approach to delivery - students can collect a parcel using the GPS on their mobile phone.”

Zookal says its drones will not carry cameras and will not use commercial airspace. It is legal to fly commercial drones under 122 metres in Australia. The limit ensures drones do not interfere with flight paths.

Ahmed Haider and Matthew Sweeny with a Flirtey delivery drone.

“I’ve already tested it and it’s incredibly cool,” Haider says. “It’s a euphoric moment when you first receive your parcel via a drone.”

Haider says Flirtey’s vision is to help build an industry. He says while Zookal will continue to use Australia Post to deliver textbooks to students, “as this technology progresses, it will affect every e-commerce business in the world.”

Flirtey is working with the Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering on ways drone technology can be applied more widely across Australian industries. The company also wants to have input into a new protocol for the operation of drones in Australia.

The increasing use of unmanned drones in Australia could create problems for policy makers, as it has in the United States, where use of the technology has grown faster than regulatory bodies can respond.

There are privacy fears as well as questions over whether businesses using a drone to deliver products to consumers should have access to commercial airspace.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority is currently reviewing regulations relating to drones.

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