Drone food delivery tested at SDSU prior to city-wide launch

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An Uber Eats drone delivery program could launch in San Diego as early as this summer, a move that promises increased delivery speed and could potentially bring new restaurant options to the platform.

The announcement was made at the Uber Elevate Summit and comes after Uber partnered with San Diego State and McDonald’s to test the drone delivery system last month.

“We think drone delivery presents an opportunity to dramatically improve that customer experience,” Uber Eats Senior Director of Business Development Liz Meyerdirk said at the conference.

During Uber’s test-run of their drones at SDSU in May, an order from McDonald’s was placed in a specially designed Uber Eats package, attached to a drone and delivered to a specific drop zone near Viejas Arena. The test was the first step in bringing drone delivery to residents across San Diego.

Meyerdirk said Uber Eats can currently deliver food to customers in about 30 minutes. But Uber believes by using drone technology, the company could more efficiently deliver food without altering how restaurants prepare food or how customers use the app.

At the conference, Uber Elevate Head of Flight Operations Luke Fischer demonstrated a conceptual example of an Uber Eats customer in La Jolla who could receive a McDonald’s order in just under eight minutes.

“Through drone delivery, we are able to open up restaurants to additional customers without negatively impacting food quality,” Fischer said.

The demonstration showed operators securing a food package to a drone after an order is placed and prepared. Uber drivers are then dispatched to a safe zone near the customer’s location and Uber’s drones are designed to land on QR codes affixed to the roof of the driver’s car.

Fischer said drone delivery presents a challenge because dense urban environments lack backyards, mailboxes or drop zones to deliver goods to customers. Using Uber’s existing platform, a combination of drone technology and a network of human couriers could solve the problem of urban delivery while increasing delivery speed.

While McDonald’s is currently unavailable in La Jolla on the Uber Eats platform, Fischer said drones at scale would “expand McDonald’s potential customer base for delivery” in neighborhoods like La Jolla across San Diego.

Uber is also reaching out to more traditional restaurants that may not have previously considered delivery or take-out. The company has partnered with local restaurant Juniper and Ivy for drone delivery.

San Diego was one of 10 state, local and tribal governments to partner with the FAA’s Integration Pilot Program. The program, which launched in 2017, tests the integration of drones into the airspace to assist the FAA in creating regulations for drone operations.

Clearing federal regulation presents the next step in Uber’s quest to bring drone delivery to San Diego. Uber is currently working to acquire air carrier certification from the Federal Aviation Administration to legally and fully operate their drones for food delivery.

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