Startup Of The Week

Startup Of The Week: Flytrex

Flytrex has developed a drone delivery service that is pioneering use cases for an industry still in its infancy. As drone companies wait for regulations to be further developed, Flytrex has already struck limited partnerships that have enabled its drones to transport everything from pizza to flowers to medical supplies.

Based in Israel, the company is trying to simultaneously build a business, while also demonstrating that commercial drones are ready for more robust work. Flytrex CEO Yariv Bash says he hopes to speed the adoption of drones by giving a glimpse of their potential impact to regulators, consumers, and potential partners.

“Drones are going to make such a positive change on our lives,” he said. “But it will just look normal in 10 to 20 years.”

Flytrex CEO Yariv Bash

Founded in 2013, the company makes three versions of its drones, with the most powerful being able to carry packages weighing 3kg as far as 10km. The company matches that with a subscription-based, control center platform that allows operators to plans routes in advance, automate pre-flight checks, and plan payload drops.

The combination of the hardware and the platform has helped Flytrex push its drone solutions forward with partners and regulators. For instance, Flytrex received approval from Iceland’s Civil Aviation Authority to fly its drones out of the range of an operator’s sight. Getting the thumbs up to operate “Beyond Visual Line of Sight” or BVLOS, is currently one of the commercial drone industry’s biggest barriers.

That green light allowed Flytrex to strike a drone delivery partnership with Icelandic ecommerce startup AHA in August 2017. Mostly, the packages tend to be smaller goods, like food, or new smartphones. Currently, AHA is approved to fly 13 routes around Reykjavik.

Bash said the program is helping to dispel some of the worries, or myths about drones. Namely, that they might be noisy and disruptive, or invasive and dangerous. Because the drones fly high enough, he said, most people don’t really notice them.

And beyond that, he notes that the drones can typically deliver goods much faster than other options such as someone on a bike or scooter. “My competition at the end of the day is an 18-year-old guy on a scooter,” Bash said.

More recently, Flytrex ws chosen to take part in the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s Drone Pilot Program. Under that program, Flytrex is working with the state of North Carolina’s Department of Transportation to develop a system for delivering medical supplies. That test also helped Flytrex win the approval of one North Carolina town, Holly Springs, to begin food delivery with local restaurants by drone.

Bash said over the past five years, the company has raised about $3.5 million in venture capital. And as its mission has evolved, it has been focusing more on the software and cloud-based control system, and less so on developing its own hardware. The company’s system will work with third-party drones as well, he said.

The key to really ramping up, he says, is for new unmanned traffic management systems to be developed. The commercial drone industry is growing rapidly, but remains small enough that the dangers of collisions remains pretty tiny, he says. But if the industry wants to get to scale, there has to be a more sophisticated way to manage a sky full of drones, he says.

“We’re waiting for unmanned traffic to take off,” he said. “We still need that if you want to see tens of thousands of drones flying simultaneously above a busy metropolitan area.”

Beyond that, Flytrex continues working with regulators to get the necessary rules in place. Bash said while regulators are moving cautiously, he’s not frustrated. He said the desire to ensure safety, and to get the rules right, will hopefully build confidence and trust in this emerging technology.

“Regulators understand that this is coming,” he said. “And they appreciate what this can bring to the country and to us as a society. But they want to be sure they do it in a reasonable manner.”

About the author

Jennifer L. Schenker

Jennifer L. Schenker, an award-winning journalist, has been covering the global tech industry from Europe since 1985, working full-time, at various points in her career for the Wall Street Journal Europe, Time Magazine, International Herald Tribune, Red Herring and BusinessWeek. She is currently the editor-in-chief of The Innovator, an English-language global publication about the digital transformation of business. Jennifer was voted one of the 50 most inspiring women in technology in Europe in 2015 and 2016 and was named by Forbes Magazine in 2018 as one of the 30 women leaders disrupting tech in France. She has been a World Economic Forum Tech Pioneers judge for 20 years. She lives in Paris and has dual U.S. and French citizenship.