Title: Chief technology officer
Location: East Hanover, N.J.
Experience: 20 years in the technology industry, including the design of the underlying autonomous in-flight decision-making technology used by Drone Express.
Modern: Drones are relatively new to supply chain management. Tell us a little about Telegrid Technologies, the parent company.
Flippo: First and foremost, we’re a woman-owned technology business. Telegrid was founded in 1984 to provide secure, tactical communications equipment for the U.S. military.
Modern: How did drones come about?
Flippo: We’re not a drone company. Telegrid is a communications technology company, and Drone Express is a logistics company. One of the technologies we developed was a wireless mesh network for the Army. A drone company reached out to us and asked us if we could put our radios on their drones. We ended up developing a radio that allowed drones to talk to other drones in the air and to communicate with robots on the ground. The result was that we made a drone into an Internet of Things device.
Modern: What led to Drone Express?
Flippo: We believe that the technology can be a game-changer for commercial drone use, including the potential for package delivery by drone, which we’re piloting with Kroger. Rather than sell the radio to a drone manufacturer, we decided to make the drone and become a courier delivery service. One of the first things we did was go to the FAA. We’re a defense contractor, so we went to the government to get a certification, which would be the same kind of certificate you’d get to fly a 747. We’re one of 10 companies that has applied for that, and no one has one yet. In fact, we’re currently working on a number of certifications.
Modern: How far off is certification?
Flippo: I believe we’re within 6 months, but we’ll see. The public perception is that everyone wants drone delivery and the FAA is working hard to meet that demand and to do so in a safe manner.
Modern: You’re now piloting drone delivery of online orders for Kroger at a store in Centerville, Ohio.
Flippo: Yes. We initially did some test flights from the Monmouth Mall in New Jersey. But, we’re not an R&D shop, and we wanted a customer who would work with us on this. When we looked at grocery delivery, we decided that Kroger had the most stores close to one another. I spent about a year talking to them, and finally they decided to move forward.
Modern: Readers can read more about how you’re making deliveries in our cover story. As you think about what you’re trying to do at Drone Express, where does this fit in the delivery business?
Flippo: Our focus is on the delivery and not the technology. In my view, we’re not competing with existing forms of delivery, but creating a new form of delivery. While we want to show we can deliver into everyday life in an urban setting, we realize that big cities are very congested when it comes to air traffic. So, we’ll work through the Midwest first and then look to expand into other areas.
Modern: Right now you’re delivering within 2 miles of a store. Can you fly further?
Flippo: We don’t need to go far. About 95% of consumers live within 2 miles of their supermarket. But, we could go 5 miles and maybe someday we will.