Uber is following in the footsteps of Amazon, Google, and others, with the development of its own delivery drone.
The flying machine will be used by Uber Eats, a service that lets hungry folks order meals using an app on their smartphone.
Uber has recently been conducting drone delivery tests from a McDonald’s in San Diego, California. It’s currently using an Air Robot AR200 octocopter with a custom-built box for holding the food, but later this year it plans to unveil its own delivery drone that could see a Big Mac and fries reach speeds of up to 70 mph.
The company told Bloomberg it wants to have a commercial service up and running by this summer. This may be a little ambitious, however, as it’s yet to receive the necessary permission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
In a bid to reassure the FAA about the safety of its proposed system, Uber said its meal-carrying drone wouldn’t fly directly to people’s homes because obstacles in and around yards could present serious challenges as it searched for a spot to land. In other words, one wrong move and it could be curtains for the combo meal, as well as the drone. More importantly, the safety of anyone nearby can not be guaranteed in the event of a crash.
Instead, the drone would fly to a pre-determined safe-landing zone where a waiting Uber courier would grab the meal and complete the delivery.
Uber said that its drone service has the potential to reduce delivery time significantly compared to conventional methods. For example, current deliveries in urban areas take an average of 21 minutes across a distance of 1.5 miles, whereas a drone could do it in just 7 minutes, the company said. Even better, delivery charges for its drone service would not be any different to its regular rates.
Uber hopes the launch of a such a service will help set it apart from its meal-delivery competitors, among them DoorDash, Grubhub, and Postmates. The challenges presented by the highly competitive market were brought into sharp focus recently when Amazon Restaurants announced it will be ending its service later this month.
Uber executive Eric Allison told Bloomberg: “Our customers want selection, quality, and efficiency — all areas that improve with drone delivery.”
But the safe operation of autonomous drones is still a huge issue, especially when flying over people and buildings in urban areas. And then there’s the issue of noise pollution, too.
Amazon and Wing
Amazon unveiled its latest Prime Air drone earlier this month, which it hopes to use for delivering goods to the homes of its online shoppers. The FAA recently granted the company a one-year “special airworthiness certificate” allowing it to test the drone under certain conditions.
Wing, owned by Google parent Alphabet, is making notable progress with its drone delivery program with the recent launch of a service in a part of Canberra, Australia, and trials in Helsinki, Finland.
In April 2018, Wing revealed it had become the first company in the U.S. to receive Air Carrier Certification from the FAA, taking it a step closer to commercial drone deliveries in the U.S.