Uber is gearing up to start testing drone delivery for Uber Eats in dense urban environments. This comes after the Federal Aviation Administration awarded Uber and San Diego, Calif. the right to test commercial food delivery via drone.
The company completed the initial phase of testing at San Diego State University in partnership with McDonald’s. Later this year, Uber plans to include others Eats restaurant partners.
But Uber isn’t using drones for the full delivery, just a part of it. Once a customer orders food, the restaurant will prepare the meal and then load it onto a drone. That drone will then take off, fly and land at a pre-determined drop-off location. Behind the scenes, Uber’s Elevate Cloud Systems will track and guide the drone, as well as notify an Eats delivery driver when and where to pick up their food. Down the road, Uber envisions landing the drones on top of parked Uber vehicles located near the delivery locations. From there, the Eats delivery driver will complete the last mile to hand-deliver the food to the customer.
“We’ve been working closely with the FAA to ensure that we’re meeting requirements and prioritizing safety,” Uber Elevate Head of Flight Operations Luke Fischer said in a statement. “From there, our goal is to expand Uber Eats drone delivery so we can provide more options to more people at the tap of a button. We believe that Uber is uniquely positioned to take on this challenge as we’re able to leverage the Uber Eats network of restaurant partners and delivery partners as well as the aviation experience and technology of Uber Elevate.”
Uber is focusing on drone delivery in dense, urban environments, so it’s not as feasible to be able to drop the food into someone’s front yard or doorstep. That’s why Uber says it’s focused on leveraging its existing resources and fleet of Uber Eats delivery partners.
“We don’t need to get the drone direct to our customers or consumers,” Fischer said at Uber Elevate this morning. “We just have to get it close enough.”
Ultimately, drone delivery means Uber will be able to get meals to customers faster and enable restaurants to reach more customers. Eats is a very important business for Uber — one that is growing more than its core ride-hailing platform. In Q1 2019, Eats saw gross bookings growth of 108%, to $3.07 billion.
The announcement comes shortly after Amazon announced it would begin drone deliveries “within months.”