Online food platform Zomato on Wednesday said it successfully tested its maiden drone delivery technology, using a hybrid drone which was able to cover a distance of 5 km, in about ten minutes, carrying a payload of 5kg at a peak speed of 80 km per hour. In December last year, the Gurgaon-headquartered firm had acquired drone delivery startup TechEagle Innovations, aiming for drone-based food delivery in India.
Currently, while regulations prohibit payload carriage on drones along with disallowing drone operations outside visual line of sight, the government — while announcing rules for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in August last — had said that the norms will be evolved with time as and when companies are able to exhibit newer technologies. To this extent, Zomato said it is forming a consortium to carry out experimental operations of drones beyond line of sight, in accordance with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation’s programme for conducting such trials.
Developed by TechEagle, the UAV is a hybrid aircraft which uses both fixed wings and rotors, making it capable of vertical take-off and landing, while covering distance like a fixed-wing aeroplane.
“Inbuilt sensors and an onboard computer allow the drone to sense and avoid static and dynamic objects, overall making it more efficient for autonomous flights,” Zomato said. Although fully automated, each drone is being tested with remote pilot supervision, Zomato said, adding that over time, as the company collects more data, it might do away with pilot supervision.
As per Zomato, the average delivery time for its biker fleet is 30.5 minutes. “The only possible way to reduce the average 30.5 minutes to 15 minutes is to take the aerial route. Roads are not efficient for very fast delivery. We have been working towards building sustainable and safe delivery technology and with our first successful test, food delivery by drones is no longer just a pipe dream. While regulatory hurdles are not trivial, and the government’s concerns need to be looked at from various (valid) points of view, the tech is ready to fly and I am confident that drone delivery will be commonplace sooner rather than later,” said Deepinder Goyal, founder & CEO, Zomato.
Globally, various companies, including e-commerce majors like Amazon, have been working on drone-based deliveries. Amazon, which made its first delivery using a drone back in 2016 in the UK, said last week at the re:MARS conference in Las Vegas that its drones will begin delivering packages to customers in 30 minutes or less in the coming months. However, the company did not disclose where the deliveries would begin. Amazon’s drones are also hybrid aerial vehicles that are able to take off and land like helicopters and sustain forward flight like fixed-wing aircraft.
E-commerce companies and food-delivery platforms are globally believed to be among the first adopters of drone-based delivery.