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09/18/2020 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 09/17/2020 19:19

Rakuten Successfully Completes Japan’s First Drone Delivery Demonstration Flight in Mountainous Region with Varying Altitudes

The month-long trial was conducted from mid-August to mid-September of this year. The goal of the Hakuba Mountain Drone Logistics Committee, comprised of 11 companies, organizations and municipalities*1, including the village of Hakuba in Nagano Prefecture, was to overcome challenges in delivering supplies to mountainous regions, with Rakuten being responsible for the provision of drone delivery solutions and operations. This delivery was made over a route approximately 5km long, from Sarukuraso (1250m) at the foot of Mt. Shirouma (2932m) in Hakuba, to one of Japan's highest mountain huts, Hakuba Sanso (2832m) at the summit and Hakubadake Chojoshukusha hut (2730m).

The drone managed to deliver peaches and pears ⁠- fruits easily damaged by vibrations ⁠- and other supplies weighing up to 5kg without any damage. Additionally, the time for this delivery, which takes around seven hours using traditional methods such as carrying supplies on foot*2, was reduced to around 15 minutes via drone flight. On the return trip from Hakuba Sanso to Sarukuraso, scrapped construction materials were loaded into a delivery box and delivered back.

The alpine village of Hakuba faces significant challenges in transporting goods between mountain huts. Currently, staff either carry supplies on foot or have supplies delivered via helicopter. However, the cost of helicopter transport, which has been replacing foot deliveries due to dangerous trails, is rising sharply. Moreover, the flight route to Hakuba Sanso crosses complex geological features that cause sudden updrafts and downdrafts. Due to the thinner atmosphere at this altitude, maintaining a precise flight path requires an aircraft with strong aerodynamic lift, which can make helicopter flights impossible in poor weather.

Given the danger of mountain huts becoming isolated in the event that deliveries cannot be made, the Drone Logistics Committee has been trialing drones, which are a more efficient and less risky way of delivering supplies than traditional methods, since 2018. Rakuten joined the Committee this year to help solve problems unique to mountainous terrain, such as drone flight range and wireless communication, and to take responsibility for providing unmanned delivery solutions. The company contributed to the success of this demonstration by applying the expertise it has built up over previous trials and services.

One of Rakuten's business goals is to support people with logistics challenges via drone delivery. To date, the company has conducted demonstrations and provided new logistics solutions in 12 prefectures across Japan*3 to aid people living on remote islands and other areas without easy access to supplies. As the challenges facing Hakuba are shared by mountainous regions around the country, Rakuten will look to apply the knowledge gained from the success of this alpine trial to expand the provision of drone delivery solutions across Japan. The company also aims to establish operations that can be run by local community staff, thereby generating local employment.

Rakuten will continue to provide services and conducts trials that contribute to the adoption of logistics services utilizing promising new delivery methods based on drones.

*1 Participating companies and organizations: Hakubakan Co., Ltd., Hakuba Village Promotion Corporation, Karamatsu Co., Ltd., Hakuba Village, Mount Libra Inc., e-Robotics Co., Ltd., Maruwa Unyu Kikan Co., Ltd., Kanamoto Co., Ltd., KELEK, Advanced Simulation Technology Of Mechanics R&D, Co., Ltd., Rakuten, Inc.
*2 This traditional delivery method involves carrying supplies on one's back while walking up to the mountain hut.
*3 Chiba Prefecture (Chiba City/Onjuku), Mie Prefecture (Shima City), Ehime Prefecture (Imabari City), Iwate Prefecture (Iwaizumi), Gifu Prefecture (Hida City), Fukushima Prefecture (Minamisoma City), Aichi Prefecture (Toyota City), Hiroshima Prefecture (Jinsekikogen), Shizuoka Prefecture (Fujieda), Fukuoka Prefecture (Fukuoka City), Saitama Prefecture (Chichibu City), Kanagawa Prefecture (Sarushima Island, Yokosuka City)

Overview of the demonstration
Trial period: Approximately one month from mid-August to mid-September 2020
Delivery route: Taking off from Sarukuraso (altitude 1250m), landing at Hakuba Sanso hut (2832m) and Hakubadake Chojoshukusha hut (2730m)
Distance flown: Approximately 5km one way
Supplies delivered: Peaches, pears and other fruits and items (maximum weight 5kg)
Organizer: Hakuba Mountain Drone Logistics Committee
Solutions provider: Rakuten, Inc.

The drone delivery in flight, Hakuba, Nagano Prefecture