Drones take idea of convenience to new heights

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Drones take idea of convenience to new heights

An employee loads the drone with items to be delivered. [LEE TAE-HEE]

An employee loads the drone with items to be delivered. [LEE TAE-HEE]

 
GAPYEONG, Gyeonggi — Ramyeon and ice cream magically appeared from the skies in Gapyeong, Gyeonggi, as 7-Eleven delivered food to people on holiday by high-tech drones.
 
Getting a notification last Friday on a smartphone that an order had arrived, a 7-Eleven employee picked out requested items — ramyeon, microwavable rice, sausages and ice cream — from a branch in Gapyeong and packaged them in a plastic bag. The bag was put in a basket and hoisted up to a drone take-off-and-landing station on the roof of the convenience store.
 
The package was placed in a small compartment in a drone. Then propellers began whirling and the vehicle took off with a buzzing sound. It flew across the skies at a speed of 36 kilometers per hour to a travelers pension 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) away.
 
Since July 13, 7-Eleven has been offering drone deliveries to one pension in Gapyeong. Start-up Pablo Air provides the drones and flight systems. 
 
Some 70 items are offered for delivery including ramyeon, bottled water and slices of pork belly, with orders made on the Alivery application. Deliveries are free, but orders can only be made on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday between 10 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.
 
The flying package arrived at a pick-up station next to the pension three minutes later. Arriving in such a jiffy, the ice cream remained unmelted. 
 
A drone flies from a 7-Eleven branch in Gapyeong, Gyeonggi, carrying food such as ramyeon and ice cream. [LEE TAE-HEE]

A drone flies from a 7-Eleven branch in Gapyeong, Gyeonggi, carrying food such as ramyeon and ice cream. [LEE TAE-HEE]

 
Not everyone is allowed to enter the arrival station. Customers having to scan a QR code they received on the application in ordered to open the station’s door.
 
The convenience store company said the branch receives four to five drone orders on weekdays and around 10 on weekends.
 
“A lot of visitors to the pension want to try the drone delivery because its something new and interesting,” said Kim Seong-cheol, a spokesperson for Korea Seven, which operates 7-Eleven. 
 
“A lot of visitors come with children, and the children get really excited seeing something fun like drones delivering food from the skies.”
 
When Kim entered the control center, located on the upper floor of the convenience store, an employee was monitoring the drone’s flight route and the weather on huge screens.
 
An employee oversees the drone delivery process and monitors the weather at the control center. [LEE TAE-HEE]

An employee oversees the drone delivery process and monitors the weather at the control center. [LEE TAE-HEE]

 
The convenience store’s drone doesn’t need to be controlled by a human and is programmed to automatically follow a set flight path. But an employee is stationed at the control center to deal with emergency situations. If the drone goes off course, the employee can manually control it.  
 
Monitoring weather is key as well, with the drone unable to fly during heavy rain.
 
The drone cannot deliver alcohol or cigarettes, undoubtedly disappointing many vacationers. The order application doesn’t have the ability to verify a customer’s age, and Korea Seven said it doesn’t have plans to develop one yet.
 
The company narrowly missed the title of being Korea’s first convenience store to offer drone deliveries, with its rival CU beating them five days earlier. But, Korea Seven says its service is more efficient.
 
Korea Seven’s drone was approved by the Korea Institute of Aviation Safety Technology to fly without a visual observer. CU doesn’t have that approval, and the company needs to hire an additional person to be stationed in the middle of the flight route so the drone is seen by the human eye throughout its entire trip. Indirectly monitoring the drone through other gadgets such as cameras isn’t allowed.
 
The service is in its infant stages, only offered to visitors at one pension. But, Korea Seven hopes to expand it.
 
“Our goal is to offer the service in more regions, especially places like islands or mountainous regions where there are no convenience stores or other big shopping facilities,” said Kim. “Right now, the distance between our convenience store and the rental unit is only 1 kilometers, but it can fly 20 kilometers, which will allow us to reach more customers in the future.”
 

BY LEE TAE-HEE [lee.taehee2@joongang.co.kr]
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