There’s drone delivery, and then there’s smart city drone delivery. And a smart city drone delivery just took place in a relatively small city near Los Angeles. That’s the city of Ontario, Calif., which is positioning itself as what some are calling “Smart Cities.”
A smart city is a somewhat fluid term, but generally refers to a city where its local government and private partners are working to improve access to digital information and data with the goal to become an economically, socially and environmentally-connected community. Initiatives can vary by city, but generally include projects like free Wi-Fi, automated water meter and more recently, things like COVID chatbots.
And in Ontario, Calif. it means drone deliveries. In Ontario, a shopping center called the New Haven Marketplace is participating in drone deliveries as many items sold in its physical stores can now be sent directly to residents via drone. The flights are being run by drone flight service provider DroneUp, which has participated in other high-profile deliveries including a project with Walmart to bring drone deliveries of goods to homes in Walmart’s own hometown of Bentonville, Arkansas.
Right now, Ontario and New Haven are in the test phase, but they ultimately plan to offer authorized drone flights.
“It’s all about community, connectivity, and convenience,” said Ontario Mayor Paul S. Leon in a prepared statement. “And these new tools – enhancing and simplifying life at New Haven – boost sustainability and businesses while propelling Ontario among the nation’s top, smart-technology cities.”
But while the first drone deliveries in Ontario ran this week, this is not the city’s first step into drones. Toward the end of 2020, Ontario announced a partnership that paved the way for today’s drone deliveries by teaming up with Detroit-based drone flight authorization provider Airspace Link to implement a “first-of-its-kind digital drone infrastructure in the sky.”
Since then, Ontario has been using Airspace Link’s platform called AirHub, a GIS-based digital mapping system to determine the optimal route for a drone to take on the way to pick up and deliver items.
“Drones are the future of developing smart cities,” said DroneUp’s Tripp Shannon. “This is particularly true for residential and retail developments seeking to create an ecosystem where engaging drones can advance connecting people to services with speed and convenience, eliminating traffic while also offering sustainable and greener options for receiving goods and services.”
Of course, Ontario has its sights as a smart city set beyond just drones. The city is also embracing robot carts, e-scooters and smart hubs.
“Smart cities are master communities planned by the city itself with developers and are built on a broad infrastructure of tech systems working together,” a DroneUp spokesperson said in an email. “Many Smart Cities are testing drone technology for the delivery of goods and services in these communities which are typically work-live-play environments.”
Ontario is also a particularly interesting city to test drone delivery in because it is also home to a major airport Ontario International Airport. And with that, the airport provides another opportunity for the city and Airspace Link to collaborate with the Federal Aviation Administration to open up more airspace to support drone flights via LAANC.
And if drone deliveries take off, Ontario should have few problems hiring. California has among the highest rate of drone pilots, with an estimated 55.6 drone pilots per 100,000 residents, according to a study by Brad College.