Delivery drones hold the potential to one day completely overhaul the way we move all kinds of things, but right now a lot of people want answers to more simple queries, such as how quickly can they bring me a textbook, burrito or a pizza? Residents of New Zealand will soon be well-placed to answer these questions, with Domino's set to trial the first pizza drone delivery service later this year.
The pizza giant will use US-based drone startup Flirtey's aircraft for the trial, which will launch some time in the coming months. It will see Flirtey's drones carry pizzas from a select Domino's store in New Zealand and lower them down to customer's homes by way of a tether, using some form of special pizza packaging to preserve the temperature and taste.
The companies carried out a demonstration of the pizza delivery-service today in Auckland with New Zealand's Civil Aviation Authority and Minister of Transport Services in attendance. According to Flirtey and Domino's, this exercise is the final hurdle before they gain regulatory approval to expand the flights to customer homes later in the year.
This will see Flirtery's drones form part of Domino's existing fleet of delivery vehicles, which includes scooters, cars, e-bikes and its roving robotic delivery unit. The drones will fly autonomously to an altitude of 60 m (200 ft) and, in the initial phases of the trial, carry pizzas to customers within 1.5 km (0.93 mi) of select stores at speeds of 30 km/h (18 mph). As regulations allow for it, Domino's plans to increase this radius to 10 km (6.2 mi).
New Zealand has long tried to position itself as a hotbed for drone technology, something that hasn't escaped Flirtey CEO Matt Sweeney. He told us in an interview way back in 2014 that with some of the most liberal aviation laws in the world, New Zealand was ahead of the curve when it comes to integrating drones into the national airspace.
Flirtey has been in dialogue with New Zealand's aviation authority since then in its push to get a drone delivery service off the ground, but its efforts aren't exclusive to the island nation in the south-west Pacific. It recently teamed up with 7-Eleven in the US to carry out the first drone delivery to a customer's home (yes it included Slurpees).
Prior to that, it carried out the US' first federally approved delivery of medical supplies and the first ship-to-shore delivery to illustrate how drones could change the game when it comes to disaster relief. The company has also set up shop with an office at the University of Nevada, looking to develop its technology at one of just six federally approved drone testing sites in the US.
Next Monday, new laws around commercial drone flight in the US come into play, which will essentially allow businesses to use drones for profit. It is unclear how drone delivery service providers like Flirtey can make use of these new rules however, as they still require the drones to be flown within the line of sight and make it illegal to operate more than one at a time, caveats that aren't really accommodating for those pushing for autonomous deliveries. Still, things are starting to move along.
"Launching the first commercial drone delivery service in the world is a landmark achievement for Flirtey and Domino's, soon you will be able to order a Flirtey to deliver your pizza on-demand," says Matt Sweeny, CEO of Flirtey. "New Zealand has the most forward-thinking aviation regulations in the world, and with the new U.S. drone regulations taking effect on August 29, Flirtey is uniquely positioned to bring the same revolutionary Flirtey drone delivery service to partners within the United States."