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Crazy ways food will be delivered in the future

Look! Up in the sky! It’s not a bird. It’s not a plane. It’s not Superman. It’s that pizza you ordered for dinner. Flying drones, robots, and high-tech delivery vans are working on changing the way we get our meals delivered. Someday soon, your dinner order might come to your house with a high-tech side of rotors or autonomous wheels.

Pizza delivery by drone

When you order a pizza for delivery, you generally expect the delivery person to arrive at your house in a vehicle of some sort, walk up to your door, ring the bell, and hand you the pizza. Now let’s remove the human from that equation. Domino’s Australia demonstrated what it calls the world’s first pizza delivery by drone to a customer’s house in New Zealand late in 2016.

The now-famous delivery included a “Peri-Peri Chicken Pizza” and a “Chicken and Cranberry Pizza,” both of which will sound like unusual options to Domino’s fans in the U.S. The pizza company said the test was “overseen by a team of drone experts and a qualified and experienced drone pilot,” which makes it sound way more complicated than a normal delivery by car.

It takes a good-sized drone to haul two pizzas packed with toppings. Drone company Flirtey provided the machine. The official delivery took place only after a series of trials focused on satisfying government regulations and making sure the pizzas would meet safe food temperature requirements.

Don’t expect Domino’s to drop a pizza at your house by drone anytime soon. The New Zealand delivery was partly a proof-of-concept and partly a publicity stunt. Still, with companies like Amazon and UPS looking into deliveries by drones, the future of pizza delivery may well be literally up in the air.

A smart pizza-delivery vehicle

While Domino’s is taking to the air, California startup Zume Pizza decided to come up with a high-tech way of delivering pizza on the ground. Zume developed a van equipped with ovens that bake the pizzas on the way to their delivery locations. The company calls this “Baked On The Way” technology. The specially equipped vehicles sport large pizza graphics on the outside and signs reading “Baking inside now” and “Ovens on board.”

Zume doesn’t stop with mobile pizza ovens for its food innovations. It uses unusual packaging made from biodegradable and compostable sugarcane fiber and has a team of robots that help the humans make pizzas at its production facility. The robots are used for repetitive tasks like dispensing and spreading sauce on the pizza dough and then placing the pies in an oven to partially bake before going into the delivery vehicle.

The Baked-On-The-Way van’s ovens turn on as the vehicle nears its destination. The pizzas finish cooking and are then sliced, packaged up, and handed over to the customer by a human delivery person. One of the benefits of this streamlined service is that Zume insists on skipping the whole tipping process. Delivery comes free, which simplifies things for its customers. While Zume is focused on pizza, for now, the company believes its technology could be expanded to other types of food.

Treats via robot

Welcome to the future. Starship Technologies said it has “built the world’s first commercially available autonomous delivery robot.” The company demonstrated its wheeled robot’s capabilities late last year by ferrying 15 chocolate cookies from bakery Cafe La Tartine to a house in the cafe’s neighborhood in Redwood City, California.

The Starship Delivery Robot rolls on six wheels and totes a bright flag to help make it visible to cars and pedestrians as it navigates the sidewalks and street crossings. It has a large compartment in the middle to accommodate food or other items.

Starship has been trying out its robots for over a year, covering over 10,000 miles at test sites in 56 cities around the world. The wheeled bots are designed for very local deliveries within a three-mile radius, with estimated delivery times coming in at anywhere from five to 30 minutes. The GPS-equipped robots are autonomous but are constantly monitored by human handlers. The cargo bay remains locked during deliveries, so it can only be opened when it arrives at its location. The robots are also adept at avoiding obstacles and people.

Pizza giant Domino’s, which is already experimenting with air deliveries by drone, will be testing the Starship robots for pizza delivery in Dutch and German cities. Starship imagines a near future where customers order up groceries, food, or other goods through a mobile app and then quickly receive their robo-deliveries on demand from stores, restaurants or specialized distribution hubs.

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