UberEats Will Soon Be Delivering Takeout Food Via Drone Technology
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Food delivery has garnered a lot of attention recently with more and more brands offering to bring your favorite food to your home. Thanks to innovative food ordering platforms such as JustEat, Grubhub, Foodler, and Food Panda, it's never been easier to have amazing restaurant-quality food in the comfort of your own home.
Not content with disrupting the taxi industry, Uber launched UberEats in 2014. The freelance takeout service has enabled restaurants who wouldn't have traditionally offered home delivery to start offering it to their customers. Customers place an order through the UberEats app, and an UberEats courier collects the food from the restaurant and brings it to the customer's address for a flat fee.
However, like many of its ilk, Uber doesn't like to sit still for too long. And now UberEats is planning to expand its offering vertically.
Under the brand of Uber Technologies Inc. - Uber's innovation arm - the company has announced plans to launch food delivery drones in the early part of the next decade. A job listing for an Operations Executive discovered by the Wall Street Journal suggests this service could be with us as early as 2021.
The service would likely work in much the same way as Amazon Air - the drone delivery system nearing readiness from the eponymous ecommerce giant. However, while the Amazon drone service launches from the company's own warehouse locations and flies directly to the customer's address, the Uber Eats equivalent would need to work slightly differently.
Because the drone wouldn't be based at the restaurant from which it would be delivering - as it would be delivering on behalf of a range of restaurants - it would need to operate from an Uber base station. This would pose some logistical challenges, as these base stations would have to be numerous enough to cover a large catchment area to serve as many restaurants as possible. The drones would have to have enough fuel to fly from the base stations to the restaurant to collect the order, travel to the customer's address, and finally return to its original location to refuel ready for the next job.
Some companies are using drone delivery in conjunction with vans. We see this in remote or disaster-hit parts of the world where life-saving medicines are needed. Vans take the delivery as far as the roads will allow, and then a drone launchpad built into the vehicle's roof enables the last leg of the journey to be completed - even where roads either don't exist or have been destroyed or blocked.
This could provide one way for Uber to solve the hub issue. Land-based vehicles could drive the drone to the restaurant, and from there the drone could take off with the food and fly it to the customer's address - cutting down on the amount of fuel the drone itself would require.
Uber is keeping its cards close to its chest when it comes to the exact nature of its drone-related plans but has made no secret of the fact that it's interested in adding the technology to its UberEats offerings. The job listing spotted by the Wall Street Journal suggests the service will be named UberExpress.
"Although the company may not want to discuss its food-delivery drone timeline, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is open about Uber's interests in drones," reports Forbes. "He also pointed out that the company was involved in a commercial drone-testing program. Back in July 2016, UberEats partnered with Dialexa to host an event in Dallas, which featured flying drone delivery. Modified drones, capable of carrying 10 pounds, delivered food to eager guests on the ground. Due to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, the drones could not go higher than 400 feet and required a human pilot on the ground."
And that's the real rub with drone delivery - and the reason Amazon hasn't yet managed to roll out its own Air service. The number and complexity of the regulations involved provide a vast tangle of red tape which must be sorted through before the drones can take to the skies en masse. And if an ecommerce giant such as Amazon has yet to adequately cut through the bureaucracy, other brands have their work cut out for them.
Drone delivery provides great opportunities for the restaurant industry, potentially allowing food brands to offer delivery in more exciting and convenient ways than ever before. Once the regulatory environment has been successfully navigated, we're likely to see many companies adding drone delivery to their repertoire.
Innovative food delivery methods are set to be a hot topic at Future Restaurants 2019, taking place this September in Austin, TX.
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