by Lucille Keen
A trial of parcel deliveries by drone will be kicked off by Australia Post next year.
Chief executive Ahmed Fahour told AFR Weekend drones were not gimmicks and the company had already begun testing deliveries using the new technology.
“We’ve been talking to a major customer, an e-tailer, who would like to particularly deliver to regional and rural communities,” Mr Fahour said.
“How do you get the parcel they’ve bought [from the] street to their home? We’re focused on convenience. So we’re going to trial in 2016 with a major customer.”
Mr Fahour said a drone could hold parcels weighing up to two kilograms.
“It meets all of the flying requirements, has backup engines, gps co-ordinates, so we can put it right on their patio,” he said.
“It’s the thin edge of trying to demonstrate that when you think of Australia Post – they’re innovative. We’re hopefully trying to show with the lockers [for parcel pick up], the app, that we are innovative.”
Mr Fahour said the drones were just one example of innovation the business was looking at.
He said the company was also looking at having 3D printers available at Post Offices.
“Some things you want, like household items, could be printed right there and then rather than waiting for it,” Mr Fahour said. “This is the new world, the technological revolution as opposed to the industrial revolution.”
He said 2 million Australians have already signed up to My Post, which enables customers to pay bills, use the Australia Post app and even nominate a 24 hour locker for parcels to be collected from.
Just this week American retail giant Wal-mart announced they had begun testing drone delivery capabilities.
On Friday, Australia Post launched a $20 million innovation capital fund, expected to grow to $100 million, which will run in conjunction with the University of Melbourne.
The fund will be operated by Australia Post Accelerator, which will be independent of the company’s core business.
“We’re doing this to avoid the corporate “innovator’s dilemma” whereby good ideas are either too small and they get swamped by other priorities or they are smothered by corporate protocols,” Mr Fahour said.
“Our Accelerator will not be involved in creating inventions itself. Our Accelerator will be focused on innovation, which is the commercialisation of inventions.”
Mr Fahour said Australia Post staff would be based at the university and would be tasked with the brief of developing “tangible commercial venture opportunities in the eCommerce market”.
“We’re specifically looking for entrepreneurs with an idea that aligns with our strategic focus of growing the Australian eCommerce market. We will also sponsor a scholarship at the Wade Institute of Entrepreneurship at Ormond College.”
Melbourne University is expected to be the first of many hubs for Australia Post to grow its innovation capabilities.
“We will [collaborate with] other universities, we want to work with government, the CSIRO and we want to be part of really accelerating what Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has talked about. Take advantage of this digital disruption and don’t become the loser of it. We have a unique opportunity and can actually prosper.”
Australia Post has suffered setbacks with a decline in their letter business in the last seven years but remains one of the most trusted companies.
“If we only do what we have been doing recently, then as the letter goes down, the usage, then so do we,” he said.
“And that’s not our job. As Australian’s migrate and become more digitally aware, we want to change with them.”