Food Delivery Drones

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August 31, 2022


Drones / Food & Nutrition


Food Delivery Drones

The last-mile delivery of food is the most expensive and time-consuming part of the food delivery supply chain. Last-mile food delivery alone amounts to almost 53% of the total shipment cost in the industry. While online food delivery websites have boomed over the last years, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, reviews still reflect poor satisfaction ratings – especially concerning working conditions and delivery times. Drones are quickly becoming a central innovation agenda for all industries, and food delivery is no exception. Can drones provide a solution to the logistical issues of the food delivery industry?

Food Delivery Drones | Potential Benefits

The cost spent on a delivery person is approximately $6 to $8 (depending on the market) per order. Consider this to the $0.88 Cost per delivery for an Amazon Air Prime drone to deliver a product of a similar weight over the same distance. The Amazon delivery is not from a restaurant supply chain, but the potential savings of drone delivery in the food industry is enormous.

Network optimization by improving the density and combining it with batching (allowing the delivery personnel to deliver multiple orders along the same route) will reduce the cost per order considerably.

But even after all this optimization, they are still not able to ensure long-term sustainability. So, food delivery service companies are looking for solutions that can bring down the driver cost; either by eliminating the drivers or by combining other delivery mechanisms with human personnel.

Drones are the leading candidates when it comes to any driverless solution. Reducing the role of the human driver comes with other benefits. Faster delivery times mean that food preservation will be better. In turn, food preservation will be better during transit. Some estimate that almost 30% of food delivery drivers are eating food that is supposed to be delivered. Issues of poor etiquette or drivers spoiling or eating the food are solved as well. Drones can provide significant environmental benefits as well.

Too much hype and little to show for it?

Perhaps the first FAA-approved drone delivery was kick-started by Flirtey, the famous drone start-up in 2015. The initial testing phase delivered pharmaceutical supplies. Flirtey then partnered with Domino’s Pizza in 2016 for Pizza delivery in New Zealand. However, five years later, this much-publicized ‘world’s first drone service’ is not filling the skies with Pizza delivery drones.

Many similar trials have had some setbacks. Strong winds prevent drones from operating, restrictions from aviation administration, and reaching the customer in densely populated urban environments are all challenges that need solutions. Along with delivery features, safety is a critical factor when using drones for food delivery. The likelihood of failure should be as close to zero as possible before deploying in urban and semi-urban localities. This difficulty has led many critics to argue that drones are good for publicity, but they are not a very practical food delivery option.

Food Delivery Drones | Potential Solutions

One of the more practical solutions is to deliver to a pre-defined drop-off point. Uber Eats, one of the major players in the food delivery business, has been toying with the idea of drone delivery for a while. After initial testing with McDonald’s at the San Diego University, Uber Eats plans to scale up its delivery drone program.

Recent relaxations from the FAA make this a realistic project to look forward to in the future. The Uber program uses drones only for partial delivery. Because Uber operates in dense urban areas, delivering directly to the customers will be tricky.

Once the customer orders the meals, the restaurant prepares and loads the meals onto the drones. The delivery drones carrying the food will fly to a predetermined drop-off point. The drivers will then fetch the food from the drop-off point and deliver the order. Uber’s Elevate Cloud Systems will monitor the entire process.

Flytrex, an Israeli drone company, also deployed a similar drone-based delivery solution. They have tested drone food delivery from restaurants like Starbucks to a pickup location within a five-minute drone flight radius. Customers will see a “drone delivery” option while completing the checkout.

Project Wing, Alphabet’s delivery by drone service, is venturing into the food delivery business. After getting a license from FAA to run aerial deliveries in Virginia, the Project wing works with FedEx and Walgreens to deliver essentials and groceries to residents. Wing also added deliveries from restaurants like Mockingbird Cafe to deliver pastries to customers stuck at home ever since the pandemic started. The Cafe is reporting a 50% uptick in pastry sales thanks to the drones!

Another early example of the drone delivery experiment in the food delivery industry was kick-started in 2017 by the Israeli start-up Flytrex by partnering with the Icelandic company AHA. Flirtey, after multiple drone testing events, partnered with 7-Eleven for food deliveries.

Most drone delivery options are hybrid – drones take off with food from the restaurant. Some companies are exploring options where the drone hovers over the ground and lowers the food to the customer using a tether. This procedure removes complications associated with drone landing, the done noise raising about acceptable decibel levels. A relatively simple drone can deliver food using this solution rather than a complex one.

The Future of Food Delivery Drones

The delivery market will reach more than $6 billion by 2026. The drone delivery service market will grow at a CAGR of 14.5% during the forecast period from 2023 t0 2030. If the current trend of relaxation from aviation regulatory bodies continues, delivery drone operations can access more airspace to increase their delivery reach.

Drones can fundamentally solve the last-mile problem faced by food delivery logistics. Drones can eliminate idle time and the cost of drivers, and the inefficiencies of the supply chain.

A drone delivery system can enable sub 5-minute, less than $1 deliveries. Many reports indicate that drone food delivery services are about to explode in the UAE, closely followed by the US, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Australia. Many expected the skies to be filled with delivery drones already. They are taking their time, but eventually, pizza delivery drones will conquer the skies.

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