Rakuten, Lawson to use drones for goods delivery in disaster-hit Fukushima city

Leading e-commerce operator Rakuten Inc. and major convenience store chain Lawson Inc. are set to begin jointly delivering goods using unmanned aerial drones on Oct. 31 in the Odaka district of Minamisoma city, Fukushima Prefecture. A Lawson moving sales vehicle will make the rounds of the district, take orders from local residents and, if a given product is not available, will arrange for it to be airlifted to the mobile shop by a Rakuten-developed drone from a Lawson store. An increasing number of evacuees are returning to the Odaka district for permanent residency following the lifting of an evacuation order issued after the 2011 nuclear disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant. But the local community faces the challenging issue of a graying population. The project is intended to assist elderly people with limited access to shopping facilities by the use of state-of-the-art technology. Based at Lawson’s Minamisoma-Odaka store, the mobile shop will travel to the Oya Community Center about 2.7 kilometers away for sale once a week. When goods ordered by shoppers are found to be unavailable from the sales vehicle, an employee will contact the store for delivery to the center by a drone. Drone delivery takes about 7 minutes for goods weighing up to about 2 kilograms. Among products to be covered by the airlifting service are daily sundry goods such as nail clippers and funeral envelopes for condolence money as well as deep-fried food that cannot be prepared on the mobile shop, including popular “Kara-age Kun” chicken nuggets. The drone will shuttle on a fixed route along the Mae River, a tributary of the Odaka River, avoiding flight over private homes. The mobile shop will operate in the Koyagi area on Wednesdays and in the Oya and Hansaki areas on Thursdays. Covered by the drone operation will only be the Oya Community Center on Thursdays. After verifying its effects during a six-month demonstration test, the Rakuten-Lawson team plans to expand it across Japan. Minamisoma Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai, Rakuten Chairman/President Hiroshi Mikitani and Lawson President Sadanobu Takemasu held a joint press conference in Tokyo on Oct. 6 to announce the drone project. “It will improve convenience of citizens, possibly offering an occasion where residents get together,” Sakurai said. “We would like to support it in an aggressive manner.” (Translated by Kyodo News)