Picture: AFP
Picture: AFP

Washington — Uber says it will begin testing food delivery by drone as it ramps up its Uber Eats service that partners with restaurants.

The ride-hailing giant announced at its Uber Elevate Summit that it had been given regulatory approval to begin tests of delivering food by drone in San Diego, California.

“Our goal is to expand Uber Eats drone delivery so we can provide more options to more people at the tap of a button,” said Luke Fischer, head of flight operations at Uber Elevate.

"We believe that Uber is uniquely positioned to take on this challenge as we’re able to leverage the Uber Eats network of restaurant partners and delivery partners as well as the aviation experience and technology of Uber Elevate.”

No direct delivery

For logistical reasons, the drones will not deliver directly to customers, but to a safe drop-off location where an Uber Eats driver will complete the order. In the future, Uber hopes to land the drones on parked vehicles located near each delivery location to allow the final delivery by hand.

Uber said it had developed a proprietary airspace management system called Elevate Cloud Systems that will guide the drones to their location. While not the first food drone delivery service, Uber is aiming for a potentially large-scale service through its food service partners across the US.

Initial testing in San Diego was done with McDonald’s, and will be expanded to include additional Uber Eats restaurants later in 2019.

Elsewhere, Reuters reported that Uber Technologies said it will use Australia’s second-largest city, Melbourne, as the first international test site for the group’s planned flying taxi service.

The US ride sharing firm had previously chosen Dubai as the first test site outside the US for its UberAIR service but reopened its request for proposals in May after launch delays in the Middle Eastern city.

Uber said on Tuesday it will begin test flights of the pilotless aircraft in Melbourne and US cities Dallas and Los Angles in 2020 before commercial operations begin in 2023.

“Australian governments have adopted a forward-looking approach to ridesharing and future transport technology,” Susan Anderson, regional GM for Uber in Australia, New Zealand and North Asia, said. “This, coupled with Melbourne’s unique demographic and geospatial factors, and culture of innovation and technology, makes Melbourne the perfect third launch city for UberAir.”

The test flights will transport passengers from one of seven Westfield shopping centres in Melbourne to the city’s main international airport. The 19km journey from the central business district to the airport is expected to take 10 minutes by air, compared with the 25 minutes it usually takes by car.

The electric, on-demand air taxis can be ordered by customers through smartphone apps in the same way Uber’s road-based taxi alternatives are hailed.

Uber’s planned air fleet includes electric jet-powered vehicles — part helicopter, part drone and part fixed-wing aircraft — with multiple small rotors capable of both vertical take-off and landing and rapid horizontal flight.

Reuters/AP