Uber’s plans to start delivering fast food by drone in San Diego this summer are nearly coming to a head, reports Bloomberg Businessweek. The company has been discussing the possibility of trials here since last May, but the report reveals fresh details about the project.
Deliveries will not be made to customers’ houses, says Bloomberg, but instead, will be sent to “designated safe landing zones” where Uber couriers will unload the package by hand and take it to the customer’s doorstep. These landing zones might even include the roofs of parked Uber cars, which will be identified by the drones using QR codes.
Costs for drone delivery will be roughly the same as regular fees, which go up to around $8.50 in San Diego. Uber has been working with McDonald’s as an early partner, designing special delivery packages that keep burgers and fries hot and intact during flights.
Bloomberg witnessed a trial of the technology that took place in May using ordinary hexacopters (nothing like the illustration of the tech Uber has provided). But the company says it is working on a new drone design that it expects to unveil later this year.
Uber’s head of aerial projects, Eric Allison, told Bloomberg that the decision to go ahead with the trials was spurred by the success of Uber Eats, which grew its revenues by nearly 150 percent last year. Uber says its drones can make a delivery over a 1.5 mile distance in just seven minutes, much quicker than the 21 minutes it would take a car or cyclist.
“Our customers want selection, quality, and efficiency — all areas that improve with drone delivery,” Allison told Bloomberg.
The company is similarly confident about the delivery of passengers by air, and at its third annual Elevate conference this week showed off new designs for its planned flying taxis. It wants to perform test flights of the taxis in 2020, with a commercial launch in 2023.
For its drone delivery trials in San Diego, though, the company is still awaiting approval from the FAA. This will likely be forthcoming though. Back in 2018, the FAA designated San Diego as one of 10 US locations where commercial drone services can be tested (its generally calm and sunny weather was one factor), and Uber has been one of a number of industry partners supplying expertise to the city since then.
The San Diego trials will offer valuable information about how to manage this new aerial infrastructure, says Uber, and the company estimates establishing regular deliveries in a handful of markets will take at least three years. In 10 years’ time it predicts drone deliveries will be so prevalent that fast food restaurants will redesign their kitchens around them.
Drone deliveries still have many challenges to overcome, including safety, noise pollution, and managing air traffic. But big tech seems determined to push the technology through. Google’s Project Wing has been steadily racking up drone deliveries in countries like Finland and Australia, and last week Amazon unveiled a new delivery drone that would be taking packages to customers in a matter of “months.”