Indian food delivery service Zomato successfully tested its drone program this week, bringing the world one step closer to getting their dinners dropped off by air.
From the Zomato blog post announcing the test flight:
We met all our parameters and were able to cover a distance of 5kms, in about 10 minutes, with a peak speed of 80 kmph, carrying a payload of 5 kgs – using a hybrid drone – fusion of rotary wing and fixed wings on a single drone.
As Zomato points out, for a crowded city like Delhi, congested streets and sidewalks make fast food delivery near-impossible. Drones, on the other hand, can fly high above the masses of people and cars to zip across town and deliver a hot meal before it gets cold.
Zomato’s news came on the same day Uber Eats announced it was looking to fire up its drone delivery program this summer in San Diego, and a week after Amazon said it would begin commercial drone delivery within months. For its part, Google’s Wing division has already been testing drone delivery in Australia, and earlier this year got FAA approval do to commercial drone delivery in the U.S.
Zomato, like Uber Eats, isn’t focusing on drone delivery to your front door. Zomato said that instead it would create a launch facility near a cluster of restaurants, and then drop off at a hub near densely populated areas. From there, presumably either a person or a rover robot would make the last mile drop off to the customer. This hub and spoke model has the advantage of requiring fewer flight paths that need regulation/supervision.
I’ll admit that I was initially skeptical about drone delivery. The rules and regulation around them are complex and still being worked out. Drones make lots of noise. And if a drone malfunctions, it can crash into buildings or worse, plummet from the sky and injure people.
But every company getting into the drone business is obviously aware of this and going to great lengths to publicly highlight their safety protocols. The Zomato blog post made a point of this as well, writing:
The final design of our drone is lightweight, and treats safety as a top priority. It has inbuilt sensors and an onboard computer to sense and avoid static and dynamic objects, overall making it more efficient for autonomous flights. Although being fully automated, each drone is currently being tested with (remote) pilot supervision to ensure 100% safety. Over time, as we have more data, we might not need remote pilot supervision.
If safety protocols and flight paths can be worked out, then drones do provide an efficient way for restaurants to make deliveries in big cities.