Fukushima suffered a nuclear meltdown triggered by the devastating earthquake and tsunami seven years ago. Despite recover, many facilities and residential neighborhoods have remained far out of reach. For some, they have to travel very far to find a convenience store.
Rakuten, the Japanese e-commerce giant, found a solution for the residents in the Fukushima prefecture. Like other Western tech companies, Rakuten has also gotten on the bandwagon of testing drones. The company partnered with the convenience store operator Lawson to test drone deliveries in Minamisoma, a city in Fukushima.
Most of the residents in Minamisoma are elderly citizens who have trouble getting around the isolated stores for daily essentials. Since the energy accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, most of the 71,000 residents in Minamisoma were forced to evacuate. The evacuation order was only lifted last year, and the residents started to return to the town slowly. Schools have reopened earlier this year and the population is steadily rising back to normal. The city is a mountainous region that makes transportation of resources difficult, which also makes it the perfect “testing ground for robotics technologies.”
The first drone delivery was an order of fried chicken and croquettes to a 70-year-old Minamisoma resident. He was incredibly pleased with the order because simple things like these have been hard to find since the nuclear meltdown. The operation also marked the first drone delivery conducted by a convenience store in Japan.
Currently, residents can place their delivery orders at Lawson’s mobile stores. A Lawson staff can then call the main store for a drone delivery into the area. Rakuten has also been experimenting with drone deliveries since last year. At one point, the company was able to deliver hot soup over a distance of 12km to surfers in Fukushima. Once testing is completed, drone deliveries will be able to benefit many residents in the remote areas of Japan.