This installment of Tech Tracker looks at food delivery by drones. This is no longer a fantasy pie in the sky idea to boost off-premise sales. It’s real, and coming soon.
Delivery is moving into its next phase: backyard drone drops.
By fall, North Carolina residents could soon be seeing their favorite meal — a fine dining steak or a fast food burger — dropped by drone onto their properties or a nearby drone landing pad.
Flytrex, a Tel Aviv-based logistics company specializing in consumer goods and food drops by drone, is one of several private-sector firms selected in May by the Federal Aviation Administration to work with 10 local, state and tribal governments on a pilot drone program.
The trial includes unmanned delivery of goods from a variety of industries including restaurants. Data from the two-year testing phase will be used to build FAA guidelines for safely integrating drones into the national airspace.
Drone deployment in North Carolina could be launched by September. No restaurants have been named yet, said Flytrex CEO Yariv Bash, whose company is currently delivering meals and retail goods by drone in Iceland.
“We’re negotiating with a few local restaurants as well as large restaurant chains,” he said.
At first, the program would start small.
In Iceland, for example, Flytrex is permitted to make “point to point” drops with drones delivering everything from sushi to Wi-Fi adapters through a partnership with AHA, one of Iceland's largest e-commerce companies. Goods are delivered between two parts of the Reykjavik separated by a river. An AHA driver fetches the goods, and finishes the delivery.
The next phase will move the program directly to homes, specifically “backyard” drops.
“You don’t have to get dressed — just go outside for half minute,” Bash said.
To address privacy concerns, drones will hover 50 feet in the air and lower the meals to the ground via a wire system. Each drone has the capability of carrying 6.5 pounds of goods a distance of 6 miles. That works in Iceland. For the U.S., Flytrex is looking at drones that could handle more weight.
Bash, who refers to his company as the FedEx of on-demand drone delivery, says drone drops are faster and more cost effective for restaurant operators grappling with steep third-party delivery fees. He did not reveal what Flytrex would charge operators. However, he said the fees would be substantially less because drones eliminate the need for drivers, beyond a drone operator.
According to his data, he said a “human courier” in a large city can make roughly 2.5 deliveries per hour. By contrast, a single drone can make five deliveries an hour. A drone operator can fly two drones at a time, potentially doubling deliveries to 10 an hour.
A Flytrex drone drop in Iceland can take less than 20 minutes. The actual drone flight is about 4.5 minutes.
“Our goal is to replace human couriers that cost quite a lot, and take a lot of time,” Bash said.
Besides Raleigh, N.C., other cities involved in the drone testing program include San Diego; Durant, Okla. (Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma); Topeka, Kan.; Ft. Myers, Fla.; Memphis, Tenn.; Bismarck, N.D.; Reno, Nev.; Herndon, Va. (Virginia Tech - Center for Innovative Technology); and Fairbanks, Alaska.
Uber Eats, the restaurant delivery division of the ride-sharing giant, is working with the city of San Diego under the same FAA program dubbed the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Integration Pilot Program. Uber Eats has not finalized a launch date.
A spokesperson said the initial drops will involve partner restaurants in San Diego. According to the Uber Eats app, chains available in the greater San Diego area include McDonald’s, Krispy Kreme, Denny’s, Luna Grill, Richard Blais’ The Crack Shack, Nékter Juice Bar, The Taco Stand and Broken Yolk Café.
"We look forward to continuing to work with the City of San Diego and our Uber Eats restaurant partners to launch a drone delivery pilot in the near future,” a company spokesperson told NRN in a statement.
During a May conference, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said drones will play an important part in resolving transportation issues in mega-growth cities.
“It’s my personal belief that a key to solving urban mobility is flying burgers in every city,” he said.
Contact Nancy Luna at [email protected]
Follow her on Twitter: @FastFoodMaven