Australia Post has kicked off technical trials of a drone delivery service for small parcels ahead of an expected customer trial “later this year”.

The company first revealed plans for drone delivery trials late last year, with CEO Ahmed Fahour backing the technology as a serious delivery mode rather than a “gimmick”.

Fahour at the time said that the expected payload of the drones is parcels up to two kilograms, and that it hoped to trial the technology with a major “e-tailer” sometime in 2016.

Post took a step closer to that customer trial this week by commencing field trials of the technology that it is working with start-up ARI Labs to perfect.

“We will put this innovative technology through its paces over the coming weeks and months to understand what it can deliver, how far it can travel, and ultimately, how our customers could receive a parcel,” Fahour said at a launch event today.

“[Drones] may be another way to help make our customers’ lives easier.

“Customers who sign up to MyPost can elect to have their parcel safe-dropped, or sent to an alternate location as well as receiving SMS and email notifications.”

Fahour said that Australia Post remained unsure what role drone technology might play in its future.

“But we do think there are opportunities for time-critical deliveries or where there are significant distances between the road and front door,” he said.

With Australia Post CEO @afahour who is launching a trial of drone parcel delivery

— David Swan (@swan_legend) April 15, 2016

Australia Post is far from the first company to trial drones for delivery. An Australian textbook rental start-up Zookal ran similar field tests back in 2013.

Internationally, Amazon has also been a strong advocate for drone delivery with several iterations of craft put through its paces.

Japan this week also started trials of a sophisticated drone delivery service in Chiba Prefecture, which is located between Tokyo and Narita Airport.

The trials, run with cooperation from the government and e-commerce giant Rakuten, will ultimately see drones pick up parcels and transport them 10km into dense residential areas.

The Japan Times reported that real estate developers building apartment high-rises would be asked to set aside balcony space for a drone to land and take off again.