Can Just Eat make drone delivery work?

The online takeaway business is trialling autonomous delivery robots - is it more than a PR stunt?

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 06 Jul 2016

Few press releases are as likely to get you noticed these days as those involving drones. From Amazon’s ongoing trial of delivery robots to Yo! Sushi’s flying waiters, copy hungry journalists just can’t get enough. So it’s with some hesitancy that one should greet the news that Just Eat, the soaring UK-based online takeaway company, plans to start delivering meals with autonomous vehicles.

Not flying drones, though. The company is partnering with Starship Technologies, a start-up backed by Skype founder Janus Friis, whose small autonomous buggies that can be loaded with cargo before being sent on their merry way to navigate the streets of a city to somebody’s home. The drones have been tested in US and European cities since the end of 2015.

Details of the trial are scant. Just Eat says it will begin in a few months and no participating restaurants have been announced yet. ‘This is another example of how we are pushing technology boundaries to provide our customers and restaurant partners with more choice and flexibility,’ said Just Eat’s chief product and technology officer Fernando Fanton. ‘We’ve always been committed to offering our customers new ways to order and pay for their food and now we’re right at the heart of a new way of delivering food which is as exciting for us as it will be for those who find a robot on their doorstep.’

Getting the technology to work won’t necessarily be straightforward though. The drones will need to negotiate their way through streets, avoiding people and pets and crossing roads without getting hit by cars. Then there’s the issue of security – what’s to stop somebody stealing the drone and the poor customer’s lamb bhuna along with it? Earlier this year MT spoke with Ahti Heinle, the company’s CEO, who suggested that given they are alarmed and of relatively little value to thieves, the drones are no more likely to be targeted than a parked car. But the novelty of smashing up a robotic drone will surely prove too tempting for some yobbos.

Read more: How ecommerce is changing the world of logistics

There’s clearly an appetite to make drone deliveries work but there are lots of obstacles to overcome. We’ll have to wait and see whether Just Eat’s experiment is the start of a big change in the way we receive takeaways or just a bit of good press.


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