Looking at textbook delivery service differently: Flying books may soon populate the skies through drones

An in-depth analysis on how the aerial vehicle could potentially change the educational world.


Michelle Monteiro, Staff Writer


  1. The use of drones could be a new, cheaper way for university students worldwide to rent and buy textbooks if all goes well with a pilot program in Australia.
  2. The company, Zookal, says that drones will dramatically reduce the cost of local shipping for textbooks and cut delivery time.
  3. The expansion of this service beyond Sydney to other nations will prove to be difficult because many countries, such as the United States, have legislation opposing commercial drone operations.
  4. Critics have wondered why Zookal should even bother with drones when their flying time will never outdo the download speed of an e-book. There are also the inevitable regulatory challenges and safety concerns.

Renting and buying textbooks has become a hassle for Heather Elder, a second year student in the Concurrent Education Program at the University of Toronto. Having ordered a popular textbook in early September for a religion course, she – instead of the normal five-day-or-less wait for an order to be fulfilled – waited approximately six weeks before receiving her purchase. A long and rare wait.

But perhaps flying textbooks would be better?

The use of drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), could be a new, cheaper way for university students worldwide to rent and buy textbooks if all goes well with a pilot program developed in Australia. Zookal, which sells and rents textbooks to Australian university students, has launched a trial at the University of Sydney to deliver textbooks by drones – autonomous hexacopters.

Partnered with Flirtey, the providers of the unmanned aerial vehicles, the drone will fly to a customer at a designated GPS location based on data sent from an app on the customer’s cell phone. There, they will drop off textbook purchases at an outdoor location of the customer’s choosing.

Zookal says that this innovative service will dramatically reduce the cost of shipping textbooks locally and cut delivery time. The drone will fly to the assigned location then lower the book package to the waiting customer – a process, the company claims, that can be completed in as little as two to three minutes once a drone takes flight.

“If this was done in Canada, I certainly wouldn’t have to travel all the way to Toronto to pick up my textbooks, that’s for sure,” Elder pointed out. “The wait-up will also be significantly shorter and as a university student, I can’t afford to lose time when there’s so much to be done.”

Matthew Sweeny, the co-founder of Flirtey, says in a promotional video that the pilot program is all about “taking technology that was previously only available to the military and to universities, democratizing it and commercializing it so that anybody can order goods or services and have them flown straight to their smart phone.” Sounds good, right?

So what’s next?

Utilizing drones to make its deliveries in Sydney, the company hopes to deliver nationwide to Australia, with ambitions to bring the method to American customers by 2015.

The expansion of this service, beyond Sydney to other countries will prove to be difficult because many countries such as the United States have legislation opposing commercial drone operations.

For example, the American government blocked the Tacocopter, which promised to deliver tacos to customers in the Silicon Valley with a smartphone app. In a Huffington Post article Star Simpson, one of the three co-founders, states that the “one of the main obstacles to getting Tacocopter ‘off the ground’ is the government [because] it’s not totally unreasonable to regulate something as potentially dangerous as having flying robots slinging tacos over people’s heads.” More on this later.

Show more