What You Need to Know About Uber Eats' Drone Delivery Service
Sun, April 18, 2021

What You Need to Know About Uber Eats' Drone Delivery Service

Delivery drones are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that are capable of delivering lightweight packages to its recipient / Photo by: Es sarawuth via Shutterstock

 

Delivery drones are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that are capable of delivering lightweight packages to its recipient, according to transportation and engineering services provider Fehr and Peers. In general, delivery drones have four to eight propellers and rechargeable batteries, enabling it to attach packages underneath its body and provide thrust. 

Drones can be operated either autonomously or remotely. An operator can oversee multiple drones simultaneously. Drones can be used to deliver medicine, food, and other time-sensitive items. Speaking of food, Uber is eager to conduct a trial of its drone delivery service that will feature the company’s new drone design.  

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Allows Uber to Test Drones

The FAA granted Uber the opportunity to test its delivery drones in San Diego earlier this year, wrote Megan Rose Dickey of TechCrunch, an American tech online publisher. Along with McDonald’s, Uber’s partner, the firm successfully completed the initial phase of testing at San Diego University. 

How does Uber’s drone delivery service work? First, the customer orders food and the restaurant prepares their meal. The meal will be attached to the drone, which will then fly and land at a pre-determined drop-off location. Uber’s Elevate Cloud Systems will “track and guide the drone.” The system will notify the Eats driver “when and where to pick up their food.” 

Uber envisions the drones landing on parked Uber vehicles stationed near the delivery locations. The driver will complete the last leg of delivery to personally deliver the food to the customer. Uber Elevate Head and of Flight Operations Luke Fischer said that the company’s goal is to expand its drone delivery service to provide more options for customers at a push of a button. 

Fischer added, “We don’t need to get the drone direct to our customers or consumers.” In fact, they just need it to get close enough to their customers. Through drone delivery, Uber will be able to attend to customers’ orders faster, enabling restaurants to cater to more customers. Uber Eats is growing higher than its ride-hailing platform, with gross bookings of 108%, to $3.07 billion in the first quarter of 2019. 

The FAA granted Uber the opportunity to test its delivery drones in San Diego earlier this year, wrote Megan Rose Dickey of TechCrunch / Photo by: Mark Van Scyoc via Shutterstock

 

Uber Eats Unveils Its New Drone Design

Uber is looking forward to testing its drone delivery service for Uber Eats in San Diego next year, as reported by Andrew J. Hawkins of American news and media network The Verge. The company’s latest drone model utilizes “innovative rotating wings with six rotors” to enable the drone to smoothly transition between vertical takeoff and forward flight. 

Interestingly, rotating wings is a common feature in flying car prototypes and is rarely seen in drones. Uber explained that the drone’s rotors are “positioned vertically for takeoff and landing.” But the rotors can rotate “into the forward position” to boost speed and efficiency during flight. The rotating wing is similar to Mark Moore’s design. Moore, who is a NASA veteran and VTOL expert, designed it for the Uber’s air taxi prototype. 

The drone and air taxi project are part of Uber Elevate, the firm’s ambitious plan to bring its ride and delivery service into the sky. Uber’s new delivery drone can carry a meal for two adult customers, the firm said. Moreover, it can cover 18 miles and stay aloft for 18 minutes, stated Alex Davis of American magazine Wired. The drone has already passed its “critical design review” and it will be launched into the sky before the end of 2019. 

Uber is looking forward to testing its drone delivery service for Uber Eats in San Diego next year / Photo by: FREEDOMPIC via Shutterstock

 

Drones Will Not Replace Uber Drivers

In Virginia, Alphabet’s X spinout Wing sends drones into the yards of their customers with their Walgreens order. In Uber’s case, drone delivery will involve humans. This way, the company will not worry about how to safely land on a customer’s yard or driveway. Uber is not planning to replace drivers. In fact, it wants to make the process of delivering meals to customers more efficient. 

In the words of Fischer, it should be “close enough.” But what does “close enough” mean? Sadly, an Uber spokesperson did not say how the tech giant will smooth out its logistics through its drone delivery service or “where they will be useful.” However, Uber clarifies that it will make Eats an effective part of their business. 

When Tech Innovation Creates Modern Problems  

Investment firm Cowan estimated that Uber loses $3.36 on every Eats order, which means that the business will not profit through 2024. The problem? Payments to drivers. In the second quarter of 2019, Uber gave its drivers $253 million “more than it made from their delivery fees.” The firm forked another $5 million in referral payments 

Even if Uber can minimize the aforementioned costs by assigning drivers “shorter, simpler routes for smaller payments” or limiting the company’s need for drivers, it will lead to more problems. For instance, Uber is likely to make its restaurant workers’ lives more complicated, as they need to attach the meals to the drone and ensure it has ample space to take off and land. 

Drone delivery is promising but Uber must weigh the pros and cons of using drones for delivering food. If the drones malfunction, what will Uber do? Perhaps this will entail additional costs for the firm.