Uber Enters the Drone Aircraft Stakes

September 5, 2018         By: Steven Anderson

Good news for anyone else who’s tapping their foot impatiently and wondering why drones aren’t bringing dinner from far-off restaurants yet: Uber has set up a whole new branch geared toward drone aircraft-based food delivery. Known as Uber Elevate, it’s being designed as a way to augment the Uber Eats platform, and may help drive some changes in the field.

Right now, UberEats does its job by having some kind of vehicle physically go to a restaurant, pick up an order, and drive it back to the person who ordered it. Drones have a great potential to speed up that process as well as make it less expensive thanks to the fact that drones run mainly on electricity rather than fossil fuels. Thus, Uber has become part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Integrated Pilot Program, joining in as a “drone delivery participant.”

While businesses have commonly addressed a few key points of improving the dining experience, these have commonly focused on in-store efforts. Seamless ordering and payments, for example, have been high on restaurants’ to-do lists. However, delivery times are comparatively unaffected, and still running fairly long. That’s where companies like Flytrex are getting involved, trying to test drone delivery of commercial goods under the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s program. A Flytrex drone lowers its cargo down to a customer on a wire, and operators can run up to five drones at once with a control center dashboard.

The problem, at last report, is the FAA itself, who has some downright ridiculous policies in place. That’s looking like it may change, but change is still slow; there have been some recent tests that could help speed things up, but as long as the FAA holds onto the “operator must be in line of sight of the drone” rule, the ultimate value of delivery will be slim. Some waivers have been issued as part of the testing, and that’s good news, but it’s going to take more than a handful of mother, may I slips to really get this industry rolling.

Still, we’re moving. That’s important. Maybe this isn’t as fast as we’d like or as widespread, but we’re moving. Drone delivery may yet be a part of our everyday lives within our lifetime, and that’s welcome news by any stretch.