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Flirtey drone
Flirtey’s drone makes a delivery for 7-Eleven. (Flirtey Photo)

In the race to make routine commercial deliveries via drone, Flirtey is going where Amazon hasn’t yet ventured: the United States.

Today, the three-year-old Nevada-based startup reported that its autonomous drones made regular weekend deliveries of food and other convenience-store products for a 7-Eleven store during November.

The pilot project involved a dozen customers in Reno – which happens to be the headquarters for Flirty and for the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems’ drone test range at Reno-Stead Airport.

Seventy-seven deliveries in all were made, using a smartphone-style app, Flirtey said in a news release.

When a customer places an order, the merchandise is loaded into a drone delivery container and flown to the house autonomously, guided by GPS readings. At each home, the Flirtey drone hovers in place and lowers the package. Average time from order to delivery: less than 10 minutes.

Customers can check on their shipments via the app. Flirtey quoted one unnamed customer as saying the experience made her feel like “the real-life Jetsons.”

The delivered items include hot food, cold beverages and over-the-counter medicines such as aspirin and flu and cold remedies.

The regular service follows up on a series of test deliveries that Flirtey has conducted for 7-Eleven, Domino’s Pizza and other partners over the past couple of years in the U.S. and New Zealand – including a well-publicized Slurpee drop in July.

Flirtey said the 7-Eleven delivery operation in Nevada would be expanded in 2017.

“While other companies in this space are shipping jobs overseas, Flirtey’s goal is to make delivery instant, and in the process create jobs at home for hardworking Americans and veterans,” Flirtey CEO Matthew Sweeny said in today’s news release. “This is a giant leap towards a future where everyone can experience the convenience of Flirtey’s instant store-to-door drone delivery.”

Sweeny’s statement included a veiled reference to Seattle-based Amazon, which started making commercial drone deliveries overseas in England this month. Amazon says it’ll gradually expand its service in England, but it hasn’t talked about its drone deployment schedule for U.S. deliveries.

Flirtey’s CEO, Matthew Sweeny, responded to several emailed questions about the drone deliveries in Nevada:

GeekWire: How do the deliveries in Nevada compare with Amazon’s tests in Britain and elsewhere?

Matthew Sweeny: “Our deliveries are very different from the one-off delivery Amazon recently did in the UK. We delivered in a suburban environment in the United States – including crossing roads with traffic – from an active store to homes in a neighborhood which includes trees and power lines. All orders were placed on-demand, not predetermined, and filled within minutes.”

Q: Does someone behind the 7-Eleven counter take the order from the app, load the goods in the container, place it on the drone and push a button?

A: “We currently have Flirtey personnel managing the order system and loading the drones.”

Q: I assume this was done with the go-ahead from the FAA … Did the drones go beyond the line of sight of their operator, or did an operator watch the drone as it made its drop?

A: “Yes, Flirtey secured all required authorizations for the operation. The drones were flown autonomously within line of sight, within a mile of the store. There was a Flirtey operator in the loop to take over if ever needed, but was not necessary.”

Q: The 77 deliveries were during weekends, but any way to characterize how many deliveries were typically made in the course of a weekend?

A: “We can share that we offered on-demand deliveries to select customers every weekend in November for a total of 77 deliveries. Every order was unique, nothing was predetermined, and we filled each order, loaded it into a Flirtey drone and had it to the customer’s home in less than 10 minutes.”

Q: How far do the drones fly to make a delivery?

A: “Flirtey drones are currently doing deliveries at a radius of up to a mile from select stores. Twenty-five percent of the U.S. population lives within one mile of a 7-Eleven store. We plan to increase this radius over time.”

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