Pizza Hut Israel is trying a new approach to make pie deliveries by drone a reality at last, but it means customers won’t get the thrill of accepting their orders from futuristic flying machines themselves.
Instead of flying pizzas directly to customers’ homes, the company this June plans to test sending drones to drop multiple orders at government-approved landing zones, such as designated spaces in parking lots. Delivery drivers will collect orders from these makeshift drone ports and take them on the final leg to customers.
“Drone delivery is a sexy thing to talk about, but it’s not realistic to think we’re going to see drones flying all over the sky dropping pizzas into everyone’s backyards anytime soon,” said
the managing director of Dragontail Systems Ltd., the technology firm coordinating Pizza Hut’s drone trial.
Pizza chains and tech startups have spent years sketching visions of food descending from the sky instead of being yanked from the back of a moped or car. Drones would zip above road traffic, widen restaurants’ delivery areas and cost less than human drivers.
In 2016, a
Domino’s Pizza Inc.
franchisee flew a drone over Whangaparaoa, New Zealand, and deposited two pizzas—peri-peri chicken and chicken and cranberry—into the backyard of Emma and
The restaurant chain claimed the couple were the first people in the world to receive their pizza order by drone. “This is the future,” the chief executive and managing director of Domino’s Pizza Enterprises Ltd. said then.
Nearly five years later, Domino’s hasn’t integrated drones into its delivery network in New Zealand, or anywhere else, a spokesman confirmed.
In the U.S., Federal Aviation Administration regulations regarding the use of drones have posed a challenge, the spokesman said. The regulator only last week approved the first fully automated commercial drone flights, which don’t require hands-on piloting or direct observation by humans.
Such practical concerns have prevented drone delivery from becoming a widespread reality.
The batteries of earlier commercial drones were too weak to carry food or other items substantial distances multiple times, and the technology was previously too expensive to make airborne deliveries commercially viable, said
a senior research fellow in aerospace engineering at the University of the West of England.
“Now those technical problems are getting solved, and we’re looking at finally deploying them in cities; we’re hitting the next level, which is regulatory issues,” Dr. Wright said. “The basic question asked by the likes of the FAA is, ‘How can you prove that you’re not going to drop a drone on somebody’s head and kill them?’”
In Israel, the Ministry of Transportation is only allowing Pizza Hut to test its drone technology from one restaurant and within a designated “air bubble” measuring roughly 50 square miles in the north of the country. The parameters mean a very limited number of households would be able to receive an order directly by drone, Mr. Levanon said. Flying individual orders to doorsteps also would require a lot of drones, and a lot of battery charging, he added.
‘Now those technical problems are getting solved, and we’re looking at finally deploying them in cities; we’re hitting the next level, which is regulatory issues.’
“What we came up with what we feel is a much more practical solution,” Mr. Levanon said.
The drones won’t drop an order at a landing point until the system recognizes a driver is there to collect it, preventing opportunistic pizza theft, Mr. Levanon said.
Equipping Pizza Hut’s Bnei Dror outlet with drones will let it service 7,000 additional households that normally can’t order delivery from there, said Pizza Hut Israel’s president, Udi Shamai.
Dragontail plans to test-fly cargo in the assigned area six times a day until June before its consumer deliveries begin. Executives hope these flights will provide the government with proof of the technology’s safety and capabilities, while letting the team fix any snags involved with whizzing pizzas through the air, said Mr. Levanon.
One challenge is weight. The Israeli regulator only allows flights carrying just over 2.5 kilograms—roughly 5.5 pounds—of cargo, which is the equivalent of two pizzas and a bottle of Coke, said Pizza Hut’s Mr. Shamai.
“We’re hoping by June they’ll increase the weight” to 22 pounds, he said.
The arrival of pizza-carrying drones is somewhat of a fulfilled prophecy for drone academics like Dr. Wright, who said he has had the idea “rattling around my head for so long that surely I was born with it.”
But the interest around employing the technology simply to deliver hot pizzas misses the bigger implications, he said, adding that he feels “maybe how [World Wide Web inventor]
would have felt if you told him in 1990 that he was about to give us a world-wide distributed database of pornography.”
“The thing that makes everybody’s jaws drop won’t be drones dropping a pizza box in the local park, or even on your doorstep, because that’s just them replacing one motorbike,” he said. “It’s when they can clean windows, and service people in nursing homes, and maintain infrastructure like bridges that the user experience will suddenly transform.”
Write to Katie Deighton at email@example.com
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