An artist’s rendering of a food delivery drone that Uber is developing.
Courtesy of Uber
Uber will start delivering food with drones in San Diego this summer, aiming to test out ways to connect a payload to customers in a dense urban environment where there’s no easy way to fly to their front door.
Under the scheme, a restaurant will load a meal onto an Uber Eats drone, which will then fly to a staging location for hand-off to an Uber Eats courier who will travel the last mile (or feet) to the customer. The company is also planning to land drones on the roofs of Uber Eats cars emblazoned with an identifying QR code.
Uber Eats is collaborating on the experiment with Uber Elevate, the company’s urban air mobility division. Luke Fischer, Uber Elevate’s head of flight operations, said it’s crucial to figure out how drone delivery will work in dense urban environments, where 68% of the world’s population is expected to live by 2050, with few easy access points like suburban backyards.
“We don’t need to get drones direct to our customer, we just have to get it close,” he said Wednesday at the Uber Elevate conference in Washington, D.C.
Uber made a few initial test deliveries last month, going beyond visual line of sight from a McDonald’s to the campus of San Diego State University using an off-the-shelf AR200 drone. The company is building a drone customized for food delivery that it plans to debut later this year.
The test program in San Diego is under the auspices of the federal UAS Integration Pilot Program, launched in 2018 in ten locations around the U.S. to work out ways to integrate drones into local airspace. Fischer said Uber is in the final stages of winning FAA certification as an air carrier under Part 135 rules.
Uber Eats has been a financial bright spot for Uber, which is continuing to lose billions a year with growth slowing in its core ride-share business. Uber Eats could generate at least $1 billion in revenue this year on deliveries of $10 billion worth of food worldwide, up from an estimated $6 billion-plus last year.
The drone delivery pilot program will expand beyond McDonald’s to other Uber Eats restaurant partners, including local favorite Juniper & Ivy.
In other IPP trials, Google’s Wing unit received approval in late April from the FAA to test drone deliveries in Blacksburg, Virginia, and Matternet and UPS began ferrying lab specimens by drone in March on the campus of WakeMed Hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina.
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