Drones for Food Delivery – How Soon, How Possible for the US?

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The drones have a long history starting from 1918 where their initial use and purpose was only for military purposes. Today, the drones are used in mainly healthcare and postal services in some countries like UAE. The use of drones for commercial purposes has been blocked in the US due to the strict regulations by the Federal Aviation Administration commission.

Today we are seeing lots of big companies like Uber and Amazon to attempt delivering food through drones. Food delivery is a $13 billion business in the U.S. The newest innovations in food delivery has primarily been focused on making the ordering process seamless and less painful. However, the food waits times and frustration from eating food when its cold has pushed some forward-looking startups to make the technology possible.

Recently, the Uber has announced its plans to integrate drone delivery to its Uber-Eats prepared food delivery unit by 2020. We’ve known that the company is seriously working on the project from the job post announcement which was then removed from Linkedin. The Uber was looking for operational managers to make the drone deliveries possible. After an inquiry from The Wall Street Journal, it has become clear that the company along with others is facing lots of operational challenges apart from the legal challenges that we know today.

What are those legal challenges?  FAA’s Part 107 Drone Regulations state that it is not allowed for foreign or interstate air carrier operators to operate. In other words, drone delivery companies that operate in different states like FedEx, UPS, DHL, USPS, or anyone crossing state or national borders can get around this rule by not carrying mail or crossing state or national borders. The regulation has other strict rules which make commercial pizza deliveries impossible. 

What is the situation with drone deliveries in other countries? Zipline, a medical drone delivery startup headquartered in San Francisco, has been operating a nationwide emergency blood delivery service in Rwanda for the past two years. The startup called ele.me which specializes in food deliveries is already operating successfully in the populated area of China. East Africa and UAE, Iceland already dominate the world in drone deliveries for a long time already.

The US-based startups have also received some hope this year. In May 2018, the Federal Aviation Administration announced that 10 U.S. states have been approved to launch a three-year pilot program, easing the current rules in an effort to jumpstart the commercial drone industry in the U.S. Alphabet, Apple, Airbus, FedEx, Intel, Microsoft, Uber, and Qualcomm are among the winners, along with smaller companies like Zipline, Flirtey, and PrecisionHawk were allowed to participate in the project. Famous retailers like Amazon and taxi companies Uber did not make the list. The 10 selectees include the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, San Diego, Virginia, Kansas, Florida, Tennessee, North Dakota, Nevada, and Alaska.

With the FAA regulations expected to become loose for commercial companies near the end of 2019, it is possible that the startups will take up the US space until 2020. For now, we will be keeping an eye on how it goes with the regulations and startups like Uber and Amazon drone deliveries.

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