The new Uber Eats drone has six rotors that rotate, allowing the drone to take off vertically. Once the device is airborne, the rotors turn horizontally to enable faster flight. The drone can carry a payload of “dinner for two,” though it is not meant for direct dropoff at someone’s door. Since the drone only has a round trip range of 12 miles or 18 minutes of flight time, it will be used for the “middle mile” — transporting food from one facility to a staging area where a driver will pick up and make the final delivery.
Adding the driver may see like an extraneous step, but it actually makes more sense if you think about how Uber might use ghost kitchens. Ghost kitchens are shared commercial kitchen facilities that rent space to different restaurants wanting to expand their delivery operations. These virtual restaurants tend to be delivery only and only accessible to customers via app like Uber Eats.
Uber Eats reportedly opened up a ghost kitchen in Paris earlier this year, and just this month opened up a virtual restaurant with Food Network personality, Rachel Ray. It’s not hard to imagine Uber investing more in ghost kitchen spaces, using them to launch more exclusive restaurants that are only available via Uber, and literally topping the buildings off with some kind of drone launch facility on the roof. Centralizing a bunch of virtual restaurants in one launch hub would certainly make using the short haul drones more efficient.
Another advantage to creating a hub and spoke model for Uber drones would be limiting the complexity of dealing with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to create flight paths. Rather than having to chart different flight paths (and any accompanying obstacles or complications) on the fly for different homes, Uber could re-use a set number of flight paths to the same drop off points over and over.
Uber’s drone reveal comes after Google got FAA approval earlier this month to begin commercial drone delivery in Virginia. At the same time, Google’s Wing has partnered for deliveries for FedEx and Walgreens, and unlike Uber’s drones, Wing appears to be dropping off directly at a consumers house via a tether that lowers.
Regardless, there are still a ton of details that need to be worked out before drone delivery is an everyday thing. As I wrote about last week, when it comes to delivery, we are watching the world change in real time, and having to figure it out as we go.