The Capabilities of Using Drones in a Food Industry Supply Chain
Are Drones the Solution to the Restaurant World’s Delivery Problem?
When the COVID-19 pandemic trapped diners at home, many restaurants survived by ramping up their delivery services. Delivery providers like DoorDash and Uber Eats allowed restaurants to continue serving their clients even when their dining rooms were closed. What few restaurants expected, however, was that the increased volume of food delivery would be a trend that continued beyond Covid.
Recent stats show that the spike in food delivery that started during the pandemic has not gone away. Diners have apparently decided that they like the convenience of having restaurant meals delivered to their homes or offices. For restaurants, however, the trend is not so convenient, primarily because delivery is expensive.
According to research from McKinsey, the average service commission that restaurants are paying to delivery services is between 15-20%. During the pandemic, those fees were seen as the cost of survival. Post-pandemic, paying those fees — or passing them on to their customers — is something most restaurants do not consider to be sustainable.
Some restaurants looking for a better way to serve their delivery customers are looking to drones as a solution. Drones, sometimes referred to as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are being used in a wide variety of applications, from job-site surveillance to search-and-rescue to inventory inspection. For restaurants, drones promise a more scalable, affordable, and sustainable solution to the growing demand for food delivery.
The benefits that drones promise to the world of delivery are easy to appreciate, starting with how readily they can scale when demand for delivery increases. In a traditional model, more delivery volume means more drivers. By leveraging GPS, AI, and machine learning, drones can fly automated flight paths. In essence, one drone “driver” can manage multiple delivery vehicles. With the most advanced software systems, the destination provided in the food order is the only “driver” needed to get the customer his or her food.
The financial implications of driverless delivery are huge for the food service industry. Drone delivery does away with fees paid to traditional delivery drivers, as well as expenses related to driver recruiting, driver management, and vehicle insurance. Overall, drone delivery presents a much more sustainable model when it comes to the financial investment.
Drones also allow for quicker delivery times. With few exceptions, drones can take a direct path from a delivery’s source to its destination — they are not delayed by stop lights or traffic jams. In the food industry, where the quality of hot dishes decreases with each passing minute, the accelerated delivery times that drones empower is a major benefit.
Gasoline costs, which are a major variable that traditional delivery models must take into account, are not an issue with drones since the vast majority of drones are powered by rechargeable batteries. Once the initial investment is made, drones continue to deliver with minimal investment.
Meeting regulatory requirements has been a challenge to drone development from its early days. To take flight, drones must comply with the requirements put forth by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This means meeting safety guidelines as well as charting flight paths that avoid no-fly zones.
Rules recently issued by the FAA make it easier for businesses to use drones for deliveries. The rules, which were issued in January 2021, expand drone capabilities by allowing for routine operations of drones over people and at night. Previously, such use required a FAA waiver. Upon announcing the new rules, the FAA said that they serve as one of a number of regulatory steps that will allow for growth in the use of drone technology.
Restaurants can avoid taking on the burdens associated with FAA requirements by working with companies that provide what has come to be known as Drone as a Service (DaaS). Such companies engineer drone systems that facilitate the required delivery service while ensuring that all mandatory regulatory requirements are met. Utilizing DaaS allows restaurants a high degree of flexibility and scalability without requiring them to develop any expertise in drone technology or make an investment in equipment.
Using drones as a means to get food orders from restaurants directly to customers is a model that has already proven to be effective. The town of Oranmore in Ireland, for instance, made headlines in 2021 when local cafes began using drone delivery to facilitate coffee deliveries. The drones, which were launched from a centrally located rooftop, lowered orders to their destinations on a cable while hovering at a height of 80 feet. The system facilitated deliveries within two minutes.
In the US, drones are being used by restaurants in a number of cities. In Holly Springs, North Caroline, for example, drone delivery is in use by nearly two dozen restaurants. The drones being used travel at 33 miles an hour, empowering deliveries in less than 5 minutes.
Another potential model for using drones as delivery vehicles involves facilitating the movement of orders from restaurants to an intermediary location where they can be picked up by last-mile delivery drivers. This model could prove to be effective for delivering to multi-family dwellings where those who place orders do not have an available landing zone. Drones could deposit orders to a rooftop staging area or other location where onsite delivery personnel could pick them up and manage the final phase of the trip.
Another model that restaurants have explored involves using drones as wait staff within the restaurant. Similar to how drones can be used to move inventory within warehouses, this model utilizes drones to cut down on the need for human resources. It has the potential to deliver meals from the kitchen to servers in the dining room, or to deliver meals directly to diners at their table, and has already been tested delivering food orders to attendees at sporting events.
The growth of demand for delivery options is something that restaurants that want to remain competitive cannot ignore. At the same time, a better model for addressing the added expenses of delivery must be identified.
Drones technology addresses both issues, empowering a more efficient delivery system that is also more cost effective. In 2023 and beyond, drone delivery promises to become a top competitive advantage in the restaurant field.
Article by: Dr. Shawun Passley, Ph.D.
Dr. Shaun Passley holds numerous masters degrees from DePaul University, Benedictine University, and Northwestern University, and has a PhD in Business Administration. In addition to founding ZenaTech, he is also Chairman & CEO of Epazz, Inc. — an enterprise-wide cloud software company — and the manufacturing company Ameritek Ventures. Shaun’s creativity and entrepreneurial spirit enable him to identify key market opportunities and successfully launch new ventures. He is responsible for EPAZZ, Inc.’s software and product development which includes the design, research, and development of ZenaDrone and future products and services. ZenaDrone is an entirely bootstrapped venture that is aiming to help the agri sector in Ireland close its emerging labor gap through automation.
A Canadian technology solution provider that specializes in drone development, tracking solutions, augmented reality, and more. Founded in 2018, the company’s initial products were aimed at marijuana and hemp-related businesses that included tracking plants from seed to sale and processing payments. The capabilities of drone technology in tracking plant progress in any field resulted in an ambitious expansion plan for ZenaDrone. Zenadrone is designed for industrial drone monitoring uses in construction, agriculture, surveillance, search and environmental inspection. Further, the drone has customizable functionalities, attachments, and features that enable Zenadrone to provide customers with a mechanism that streamlines the inspection and monitoring processes, saving field technicians from hazardous work, reducing workforce and operational costs, automating and performing tasks efficiently, and completing tasks that may be difficult or impossible for humans to do.