The idea of drones delivering packages to consumers has been around for a few years. Amazon is ready to start mass drone delivery in suburban areas soon. But delivering to urban areas is proving to be a challenge. Uber Eats thinks it might have finally cracked the urban delivery code.
The company has announced a new program it says will bring hot, freshly made food from restaurants to consumers in densely populated areas in a way that's fast and safe. It involves drones, of course.
But Uber Eats says drones are only part of the process. We'll give you the inside scoop on Uber Eats' plans for yummy food delivery.
Uber Eats drone deliveries make use of drivers
Uber held its Uber Elevate Summit 2019 in Washington, D.C., this week in which the future of the company was discussed. Among its many topics, one generating the most discussion was Uber Eats' new test to deliver food in densely populated urban areas.
Luke Fischer, Uber Elevate’s head of flight operations, said it was easier to deliver in suburban areas where there are front yards or neighborhoods with drone landing pads. But getting deliveries to people living in apartments is a much more difficult proposition.
"The customer shouldn't have to do more to get their food," he said. "We just have to get it close enough."
This summer, Uber Eats will begin testing this "close enough" concept in San Diego.
Essentially, after an order is placed and the package, or "payload," is attached to the drone, the craft will deliver it to an Uber Eats courier or driver that is in a safe location and closest to the final destination. The Uber driver will then take the package the final few miles, yards or even feet to the customer.
The drones will even be able to land on top of Uber Eats' driver's cars if they have a QR code on the roof of the vehicle.
Uber Eats finalizing FAA certification for drone deliveries
Uber Eats already has conducted a small test of the "close enough" method in a partnership with McDonald's and San Diego State University. Here's how the program worked:
Uber Eats used an off-the-shelf AR200 drone for the San Diego State University test. Fischer said the company is building a drone customized for food delivery that it plans to debut later this year.
With the testing on the San Diego State University campus over, Uber Eats is now heading into the city of San Diego proper.
Fischer said getting its meal delivery drone method down pat is important to the company's future as 68% of the world’s population is expected to live in urban areas by 2050.
But like Google and Amazon before it, Uber Eats still has to work with the federal government to get the final OK to start mass deliveries.
The test program in San Diego is being conducted through the federal Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program. The program was launched last year in 10 locations around the U.S. It is aimed at working out ways to integrate drones into local airspace.
Fischer said Uber is in the final stages of winning Federal Aviation Administration certification as an air carrier.
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