What’s the worst thing about having to wait for food? Not sure? I’ll give you a hint – it’s right there in the question. Jokes aside, if there’s one thing that could be improved about the takeout delivery process, it’s the speed at which it arrives at your doorstep. And I don’t mean to sound like a spoiled brat. I have nothing but respect for the hard work delivery people do daily. Still, automation is creeping in and companies are always looking to optimize their operations. Enter food delivery drones – so far a small-scale curiosity but by no means just a pipe dream. Today, let’s discuss if they have a chance to become an essential part of the delivery services in the future.
I think that the underlying assumption that people would very much like faster delivery, not just of food, doesn’t require much proof. But what changes are they willing to accept in order to trim down the waiting time?
One interesting study by Asish Oommen Mathew et al. (2021) aims to explore consumer attitude and intention towards adopting drones for food delivery services. Businesses are of course eager to explore disruptive technology which may help them cut costs and optimize operations, but this doesn’t necessarily mean customers are just as willing to do so.
The study focused on motivated consumer innovativeness (MCI), which is the degree to which individuals are inclined and driven to adopt and utilize new products or services. It represents the willingness of consumers to engage in innovative behaviors, such as trying out novel offerings, embracing technological advancements, and seeking unique experiences.
Functional as well as cognitive MCI (specific to the methodology applied in the study) turned out to be major positive predictors of consumer attitude and intention. The same was true for environmental friendliness. On the other hand, concerns about privacy risks were found to negatively impact the attitude towards drone adoption the most.
In conclusion, people clearly see functional and logical reasons for why drone food delivery can be a good thing while also being fine with not giving as much weight to certain potential concerns. The ground seems to be quite fertile for adoption, so let’s discuss more aspects of the topic.
What is drone delivery?
Drone delivery refers to the use of rather small unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, to transport goods from one location to another. The process involves using autonomous or remotely controlled drones equipped with navigation systems and payload capacities to carry packages, parcels, or other items of commercial value.
It’s important to note that using drones for delivery services is regulated locally by countries or regions, as this is still an emerging technological and economic niche.
How do drone food delivery services work?
When you think about it, it’s kind of crazy that your favorite meal can now take a flight. The culinary journey becomes literal and it makes me wonder if we’re going to see burgers getting hand baggage allowance next.
Let’s not worry about all that just yet and look at how the current process of food delivery by drone works, in essence.
First we have the restaurant embracing the idea of sky service. The establishments that wish to be at the forefront of this gastro-aerial-revolution partner up with drone delivery companies to offer their customers a new type of experience. A streamlined process for food handover and delivery is then worked out. The order system is integrated with the drone platform to ensure seamless operations.
Once a customer places an order, the drone delivery software instantly communicates with the restaurant, confirming the order details, and a drone is then dispatched to the designated restaurant location for pickup.
Equipped with state-of-the-art GPS, obstacle avoidance systems, and advanced routing algorithms, drones navigate the skies with precision. They follow predefined flight paths, avoiding obstacles such as buildings, trees, and power lines. Real-time monitoring provides for a smooth journey from restaurant to customer.
To ensure food quality and freshness, drones incorporate specially designed compartments that protect the payload during transit. Advanced temperature control mechanisms, such as insulated containers or refrigeration systems, maintain optimal conditions for perishable items, preserving their taste and quality.
Finally, upon reaching the customer's location, the drone completes a safe landing or releases a cable with the order hooked to it. Delivery confirmation is automatically sent to the restaurant and customer that a successful transaction has been completed. Customers can track their orders in real-time through intuitive mobile apps, adding excitement and anticipation to the delivery experience.
Can food delivery drones be better than humans?
Man vs. machine, the creator vs. his offspring, who will prevail in the Battle of Grub? The breakdown of the delivery process above seems almost too perfect, so what’s the catch? Is there any downside to drone delivery?
Benefits of food delivery by drone
Harnessing the speed and agility of drones, food orders can reach customers in record time. With the ability to navigate above traffic and bypass road congestion, drones ensure that meals arrive promptly, keeping hunger at bay and elevating the overall takeout dining experience.
Urban traffic relief
Drones alleviate the burden of delivery vehicles on crowded urban streets. By taking to the skies, they reduce traffic and contribute to smoother transportation networks. This not only improves delivery efficiency but also has a positive impact on the environment and overall urban mobility.
Access to remote areas
Drones have the potential to transcend geographical barriers, enabling food delivery to remote or hard-to-reach locations. Whether it's a rural countryside or a mountain getaway, drones can swiftly transport meals, bringing the convenience of food delivery to areas that were once inaccessible.
Futuristic and memorable experience
Drone food delivery offers a unique and unforgettable dining experience. The sight of a drone descending to deliver a meal creates a sense of wonder and excitement. It adds a touch of innovation to everyday life, leaving a lasting impression and generating buzz among customers.
Challenges of food delivery by drone
Limited payload capacity
Drones have limited carrying capacity, restricting the quantity and size of food items they can transport (for instance, Flytrex can carry 11 Big Macs at once). Large orders or bulk deliveries may pose a challenge, requiring multiple drone trips or alternative delivery methods. This limitation can impact the scalability and efficiency of the delivery process.
Adverse weather conditions can impede drone operations. Strong winds, heavy rain, or fog can affect flight stability and compromise safety. Such weather sensitivity may lead to delays or cancellations, impacting the reliability of drone food delivery during inclement weather periods.
Drones are limited by their battery life and range capabilities. Longer distances between the restaurant and the customer's location can be challenging for drones to cover, leading to constraints on the delivery radius. This limitation may restrict the availability of drone food delivery services to certain geographical areas.
Lack of personal interaction
Unlike traditional food delivery methods involving human couriers, drone delivery lacks the personal touch and face-to-face interaction. Some customers may value the human connection and personalized service that comes with direct interaction, which may be missed in the drone delivery experience.
In trying to answer the question posed in the section’s header, let’s turn our attention to the challenges in particular, as they’re something that’ll have to be overcome in order to roll application of drones out on a wider scale.
It seems like where UAVs come short are the same areas where humans have some limitations as well. A courier won’t haul tens of pounds of food in absolutely any conditions to any place either, so at this point it is just a matter of scale – delivery folks, despite having their justifiable limits, can still outperform drones in these aspects.
On top of the issues covered above, drones can cause extra noise, there’s a risk of stuff falling from the sky (although the previously referred study found that “delivery and performance risk factors did not seem to have much influence when compared to the privacy risk”, so it seems like this wasn’t going to prevent the responders from adoption), and some potential danger to wildlife but also to being attacked by birds of prey (I guess that would still be delivery made, it’s just not you who’s enjoyed the meal).
These and other drawbacks, however, will mostly likely be mitigated via design improvements. And while humans aren’t going to lose their delivery jobs to drones just yet,I can definitely see drones (well, their meaty creators) making major strides to significantly expand their capabilities to a point where they’re able to replace couriers.
How to build a drone food delivery app
Now, to get a better understanding of what it will take to develop a drone food delivery app, go over the steps below and compare them against your vision.
- Define app requirements: Clearly specify the goals, features, and target audience of the drone food delivery app. If you’re not sure where to start, we recommend you have a look at our product workshops.
- Design user interface: Create an intuitive and visually appealing UI that enables easy navigation and enhances the user experience (UX).
- Implement order management system: Develop a web-based robust order management system to handle incoming orders, order tracking, and real-time updates.
- Integrate an in-app card processing gateway: Include a secure and seamless platform to facilitate diverse online payments options.
- Implement geolocation services: Utilize geolocation services to enable precise tracking of customers, restaurants, and drone deliveries.
- Develop restaurant dashboard: Build a dedicated dashboard for restaurants to manage their menu, incoming orders, and order fulfillment.
- Build customer apps: Develop a customer-facing mobile apps with features such as menu browsing, order placement, order tracking, and personalized notifications.
- Incorporate drone fleet management: Create a system to manage the drone fleet, including monitoring of drones availability, battery life, and maintenance.
- Ensure data security: Implement robust security measures to protect customer data, payment information, and ensure secure transactions.
- Enable customer support: Provide customer support channels, such as in-app chat or helpline, to address customer queries, concerns, and provide assistance.
- Test and optimize: Conduct thorough testing to ensure the app functions seamlessly, and optimize performance for a smooth user experience.
- Launch and market: Strategize the launch of your MVP and marketing of the drone food delivery app to generate awareness, attract users, and onboard restaurants.
All that being said, if you’d prefer to keep things more grounded and a bit more traditional, we’ve already discussed food delivery app development in more detail.
Feel like you may need a hand with your project? RST Software is 100% here for you as a trusted technological partner. Together we can hammer out a fresh food delivery platform that will wow your users. Our work in the niche already includes:
Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s see where we can take this.
Examples of food delivery drone companies pushing the frontier
Wing drones, Google’s sister company, which has been granted the right to operate as an airline company in the US by the Federal Aviation Administration, boasts to have already made 300,000+ commercial deliveries across three continents. Wing uses autonomous drones to move small packages directly from businesses to customer homes in minutes.
Flytrex, another company that employs autonomous drones for food delivery, so far operating locally in America’s North Carolina and Texas, making a bold claim of getting the order over to you in five minutes (only if you have a backyard, though, which is the dropoff point you need to register in their app). Honestly, if I lived in any of the areas they cover, I’d be very tempted to put this promise to a test. With about 5 miles (ca. 8 km) roundtrip limit and the speed of 32 mph (ca. 51 km/h), they may just be able to deliver on it (pun intended). Interestingly, Flytrex also offers public delivery points for anyone wanting to try the service out but is otherwise not covered by their stations.
Meituan, China’s most popular food delivery platform, has been utllizing drones in Shenzhen for about 18 months now as of writing this post. The company claims to have made 100,000 deliveries in 2022 alone. Considering the city’s extremely urban and hectic environment, their drones land atop pickup kiosks scattered around streets and place the order inside for the customer to retrieve. The stations are big enough to hold several boxes at the same time.
These peculiar working conditions, so to speak, is what differentiates Meituan from other drone operators, including those discussed in this post. It’s also worth noting that UAVs make particular sense in the Chinese context, where a significant part of the population lives in tall apartment buildings, which means that in the future, the deliveries will most likely be made directly to people’s living units.
The future of drone food delivery
Drone food delivery already is a reality, although a very limited one. Will we see it grow in scale and become commonplace? Well, considering how popular ordering food is in general and how many delivery people can be seen in the streets dashing from one place to another, there’s certainly room for UAVs to expand into.
So again, are food delivery drones inevitably a part of the future?
The short answer seems to be yes, they are, although the extent of their use will very much depend on whether they can indeed perform more efficiently than humans – be faster, safer, and able to carry a considerable load in a wide range of natural conditions.
The promise of hyper convenience is tempting – flying drones leading to very short delivery times, but a number of other issues discussed in the post remain, for now, unresolved.