Image Credit: Uber
The next battle in delivery is being fought in the sky. On Monday, Eric Allison, head of Uber Elevate, revealed a new Uber Eats delivery drone design onstage at Forbes Under 30 Summit in Detroit. The company plans to use this design when it starts testing meal delivery in San Diego next summer.
The new drone design can carry dinner for up two people and features six rotors, the company says. Its battery is designed for eight minutes, including loading and unloading, and it can only do relatively short hauls. The drone has a roundtrip range of 12 miles, or a total flight time of 18 minutes.
Uber’s plan is to fly meals from restaurants to a staging location where an Uber driver would then travel the last mile for the hand-off to the customer. It has also considered landing drones on the roofs of delivery cars, the company said in June when it unveiled its drone testing plans. At the time, Uber Eats had made a few test deliveries from a McDonald’s near San Diego State University.
It’s a limited use case to start, but Uber Eats isn’t the only one trying to crack drone delivery. UPS received approval in early October to start testing drone delivery, but it will focus first on creating a network for hospitals. Amazon is also developing its own drones and said in June that it would begin deliveries “within months.” Google’s Project Wing is testing deliveries in Australia, Finland and Christiansburg, Virginia.
While the FAA is beginning to allow tests, there are still a lot of obstacles before drone delivery really takes flight. They will have to deal with weather problems and making sure they can identify other objects in the sky, from birds to wires and even other drones. Despite the obstacles, companies are continuing to invest in drone networks. For Uber, it’s part of a larger Elevate division, which is working on new air transportation networks, from helicopters to electric VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) planes.