Six years on from the devastating nuclear disaster at the Fukushima power plant, residents in nearby Minamisoma have returned to their homes. Delivery drones are being used to fill gaps in the supply chain and make the transition easier.
The Odaka district of Minamisoma is less than 13 miles from the Fukushima nuclear power plant. In March 2011, the Tohoku earthquake caused a tsunami and the two events combined to shut down the plant’s reactors and disable the generators needed to keep them cool.
Three nuclear meltdowns and a huge radioactive leak later, thousands of residents were forced to evacuate the area and many exclusion zones remain in place today.
Japan’s first food drone delivery service
Last year, residents were allowed to return to the Minamisoma area north of Fukushima. But getting back to normal has been a challenge, particularly when supply chains have been severed and even necessities, such as food, are hard to get hold of.
In response, convenience store chain Lawson has partnered with e-commerce giant Rakuten to launch a drone delivery service in Minamisoma’s Odaka district. The district has a large population of older people, making convenience and easy access to shopping a priority.
As locals trickle back, there are few places around to stock up on the basics. “The town is starting to regain its former liveliness as its residents continue to return home,” Lawson spokesperson Ken Mochimaru told the BBC.
“However, improving the shopping environment for daily necessities, food, and other products represents a high-priority challenge,” he said.
Not quite a drone-to-door service
The Lawson and Rakuten delivery partnership will utilize a distribution hub, a mobile Lawson shop and a Rakuten drone.
The store on wheels will take orders from locals in the community and a drone capable of carrying 2kg at a time will ferry orders from the hub back to the van. Staff can then make the final delivery. The products on offer will include warm cooked food.
The scheme is trailing every Thursday for the next six months, and will aim to restore a semblance of normality to the lives of residents in the area.