Uber is set to begin its first consumer tests of delivering food by drones as part of a pilot program with the City of San Diego and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). With all the ongoing drone news and updates from Amazon to Domino’s Pizza and many others, this is the closest the industry has come to actual meals being delivered by drone to real customers in high-density urban environments.
As part of the FAA’s Integration Pilot Program to test the commercial application of drone-based food deliveries, Uber’s Elevate division will be combining the brand’s logistical expertise with its network of restaurants looking for a direct, nonstop connection to consumers.
Uber Elevate’s forthcoming service is powered by Elevate Cloud Services, which is a proprietary airspace management system that tracks and guides all drone flights to take off, fly and land independently. After a restaurant loads a meal into a drone and the drone takes off from a restaurant, Elevate Cloud Services will notify a nearby Uber Eats delivery partner to meet the drone at the drop-off location to ensure orders are picked up and hand-delivered to the customer.
In the future, Uber Elevate seeks to leverage Uber’s rides network to enable the drones to land safely and securely atop parked vehicles located near each delivery location through QR code correspondence. The last-mile leg of the delivery will be completed by the Uber Eats delivery partner hand-delivering the order. The findings generated by drone food delivery will also contribute to the foundation of Uber Elevate’s future aerial ride-sharing network.
“We’ve been working closely with the FAA to ensure that we’re meeting requirements and prioritizing safety,” said Luke Fischer, head of flight operations at Uber Elevate. “From there, our goal is to expand Uber Eats drone delivery so we can provide more options to more people at the tap of a button.”
Fischer added that Uber is uniquely positioned to tackle this long-standing goal by leveraging its network and delivery partners, and also the aviation experience and technology the Elevate team has compiled.
Third-party reports suggest the company wants to use Uber Eats driver vehicles as mobile landing pads for drones to drop food off on, with Fischer suggesting mailboxes and in backyards “with parachutes attached” might also be part of the last-mile solution.
The initial phase of testing in San Diego was done with McDonald’s, and will be expanded to include additional Uber Eats restaurant partners later this year, including San Diego fine-dining restaurant Juniper and Ivy.