An image of a drone delivery fast food, drone delivering pizza takeout container, in an article on whether drones will replace food delivery drivers

Will drones replace food delivery drivers?

The food delivery business has become a highly competitive space over the last few years. This may be due to the Covid-19 forcing restaurants to rely solely on food delivery to earn a profit while millions of people were in lockdown. More so, the concept of delivery is constantly being reinvented, with more innovative methods coming to light.

As advancements in automation continue, the question of using drone technology for food delivery has surfaced. While the use of drones may offer a more efficient food delivery process, the technology and training involved may be costly for many businesses. Additionally, there are the logistics involved in vetting this new technology and determining how customers will retrieve their meals upon delivery.

That said, several retailers, restaurant chains, and delivery companies, such as Amazon and Domino’s Pizza, are testing drone deliveries across the US, in order to increase delivery times and reach wider markets. Read on to discover the likelihood of drones replacing food delivery drivers and the pros and cons behind this delivery method.

The rise of artificial intelligence (AI)

Throughout several industries, automation and the use of artificial intelligence (AI) systems have been on the rise for some time. For instance, self-check-out systems, or automated kiosks where customers can scan products themselves without the help of staff, have been used in supermarkets across the UK for years.

Additionally, some specialty coffee brands, such as Artly, are making use of robot baristas. This AI-powered barista claims to make the “perfect cup of coffee every time” using computer vision algorithms to guide a robotic arm and monitor drink quality.

Admittedly, automation in the food industry has its benefits. Increasing the speed and throughput of ingredients allows for more products to be made in less time. More so, automation can increase the speed of repetitive tasks, such as packaging orders for delivery.

That said, a recent publication highlights how job redundancy in the food space due to automation could have a negative impact on numerous workers. This, coupled with the expense of these systems, are factors that make automation and AI systems less accessible to everyday food operators.

Notably, North America holds around 29% of the market share of AI in the food and beverage industry. AI in the food and beverage industry is expected to increase from $3.07 billion dollars to $29.94 billion dollars within the next five years alone. The forecasted adoption of this technology leads to the idea that the adoption of automated drone delivery may not be too far off.

An image of a fast food delivery driver on a bicycle delivering takeout containers, fast food boxes, takeout noxes, fast food packaging, in an article on whether drones will replace food delivery drivers

Pros and cons of replacing delivery drivers

Replacing delivery drivers with drones can have several benefits. However, it is advisable for operators to consider both sides of the scenario before making the investment.

The pros of using drones for food delivery
  • Reduces costs: While the initial investment will be large, the savings provided can be vast over time. For instance, operators can save on fuel costs, as drones are often battery powered. Furthermore, there will be a reduction in labour costs as a drone delivery operation can be semi-autonomous.
  • Faster delivery times: During transit, drones will not have to battle with traffic, which makes delivery quicker and more efficient. The drone is likely to take the shortest route available. Plus, drones can be fitted with GPS technology, allowing customers to track the exact location of their delivery. This can help increase customer satisfaction and reduce the risk of stolen or contaminated food.
  • Opens a wider market: As drone food delivery will have less reliance on roads, it allows business to target customers outside of their local community. Drone delivery can be a game-changer for people living in remote areas with limited access to transportation, allowing them to order from restaurants that fall outside of their area.
What are the cons of using drones?
  • Large initial investment: Drone technology is still fairly new, which means the initial investment may be costly. Businesses will also have to weigh the operating costs: some data suggests the operating cost per delivery with a drone is $13.50, which may not be competitive enough to beat out cars and bikes driven by human operators.
  • Current lack of regulations: The laws behind drone delivery are yet to be defined and it is likely there will be strict regulations in the future. For instance, there are many areas within the US, such as military bases, that have restricted airspace, which means drones may require clearance in order to fly over. Furthermore, it is considered illegal in some countries for drone operators to fly the machines over private residences, which may force them to follow roads.
  • Customer communication: As drone food delivery will likely be completely autonomous, customers may struggle to communicate a wrong delivery address or an incomplete order. This increases the risk of unsatisfied and possible frustrated customers. 
An image of a fast food delivery driver handing a customer a takeout container, takeaway food container, takeout box, fast food box, in an article on whether drones will replace food delivery drivers

Will It Ever Happen?

Perhaps one of the best examples of a business using drone delivery is Amazon. Admittedly, the project has taken ten years to develop and has faced a great number of hurdles in functionality and implementation. Notably, if a company with Amazon’s resources is finding the process difficult, the technology most likely needs to be finely tuned for the small businesses making up the food industry.

However, automation and AI are major tools that are constantly being looked at to optimise food delivery. There is no doubt a net benefit to drone delivery in the food space, as it can revolutionise how food is delivered and reduce its associated costs.

Undoubtedly, the food industry will see advances in drone delivery within the next few decades. What remains to be seen is how accessible this delivery software and hardware will be to the everyday restaurant or food business operator.

Currently, the technology is less affordable to smaller businesses, and automation may lack the human connection some customers still crave. Overall, the next few decades in the food industry will determine if a need persists in drone delivery and its long term impact on food delivery.