• Kyodo

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Consumers got a glimpse of the future this week when an unmanned delivery drone jointly developed by Yamato Holdings Co. and Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. of the U.S. made its first successful flight.

Autonomous Pod Transport 70 was tested at Bell’s proving ground in the suburbs of Fort Worth, Texas, on Monday. The two companies hope to put the drone into service in Japan by the early 2020s, before taking it global.

The development of delivery drones comes amid rapid growth in parcel deliveries driven by the boom in online shopping. Deliveries in Japan hit 4.25 billion in fiscal 2017, up 5.8 percent on the previous year, transport ministry data shows.

The drones also come as Japan’s labor shortages in the transportation sector grow more severe.

During the test, the APT 70 took off vertically and cruised horizontally about 50 meters off the ground for a few minutes before setting down. Bell said the aircraft can travel at 160 kph and carry to 32 kg.

“I feel we were able to take the big first step toward a new flight-based logistics service,” said Yamato President Yutaka Nagao, who attended the test.

The test “marked the start of a new logistics business model,” he said.

The drone — with a body by Bell and a cargo pod by Yamato — is 2.7 meters wide, 1.8 meters tall and weighs about 160 kg. It has a range of 56 km and can operate in nearly the same weather conditions as aircraft, the companies said.

Moves toward using unmanned drones and robots to offer logistics solutions have recently gained traction.

NEC Corp. demonstrated a prototype of an electric flying car this month that it hopes to have in service by 2023 for cargo transport.

In the meantime, Amazon.com Inc. has revealed plans to launch a drone-based delivery service in the coming months. Companies such as U.S. ride-hailing giant Uber Technologies Inc. are also racing to develop flying cars.

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