Dozens of drones flew over Tel Aviv in an experiment that officials say could pave the way for the use of commercial drones across Israel
TEL AVIV, Israel – Dozens of drones floated in the skies of Tel Aviv on Monday, carrying cartons of ice cream and sushi across the city in an experiment that officials say provided insight of a not so distant future.
Israel’s National Drone Initiative, a government program, conducted the exercise to prepare for a world in which large amounts of commercial deliveries will be made by drones to reduce pressure on heavily congested urban roads. The two-year program aims to apply the capabilities of Israeli drone companies to establish a nationwide network where customers can order goods and have them delivered to collection points.
The project, now in the third of eight stages, is still in its infancy and faces many security and logistical issues.
“We had 700 test flights at the start of this year and we are now at almost 9,000 flights,” said Daniella Partem, from the Israel Innovation Authority, a partner in the drone initiative.
Israel is a world leader in drone technology, with much of its expertise rooted in the highly technological military. Many of the 16 companies participating in the drone initiative have ties to the military.
A first step tested the transport of drugs and blood plasma by drones. The initiative has since carried out broader tests in three different urban districts in Israel and hopes to promote legislation that would allow drones to be widely used through an app that customers and customers can use.
Israel’s population of 9.3 million is largely crammed into urban centers, with major cities like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem suffering from high levels of traffic congestion. Access to Israeli airspace is highly regulated by security officials, and flying a drone requires a permit from the Israel Civil Aviation Authority.
The initiative faces many obstacles. Authorities will need to ensure that drones can handle flights in turbulent weather conditions and that the skies can be cleared quickly in the event of war or emergency. There are also privacy concerns.
“Once you have a drone that takes photos or videos, you create a whole new dimension of invasion of privacy,” said Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, digital technology expert and member of the Israel Democracy Institute, a think tank in Jerusalem.
The drone initiative has previously attempted to address these concerns by using cameras that can help the machine land, but lack the resolution to take detailed photos.
The drone initiative has worked in cooperation with the aviation authority since its first flight tests in January. Five more tests are planned over the next 14 months.
“Someday we’ll have drone-powered taxis in the sky,” said Yoely Or, co-founder of Cando Drones, one of the companies that participated in Monday’s experiment.