When coronavirus-related restrictions lift in India, food deliveries are going to get a little lift too. Swiggy, one of India’s largest online food delivery platforms is planning to begin food deliveries via drone.
Small-scale deliveries are set to begin in a relatively small area in two different cities, Ropar and Etah as part of a pilot program. The food deliveries will be done by Swiggy, one of India’s largest online food delivery platforms. The deliveries are set to begin as soon as mid-July, subject to easing of coronavirus-related restrictions.
For now, operators expect drones will make an estimated 25 – 50 flights per day at launch — with plans to scale up from there.
How it works
In the city of Ropar, the drones will be part of the journey to bring snacks, other food items and beverages on-demand to residents in and around the IIT Campus in Ropar.
Anyone who downloads the Swiggy App can place an on-demand order and — if they’re in the right location — will have a drone deliver their food part of the way. The customer will then get real-time flight tracking, so they’ll know exactly when their delivery will arrive and where in the air it is.
The model being tested is much like what another drone delivery company, Flytrex, tested in Iceland. The item starts at the restaurant or store where it was ordered from, and is brought via ground transportation to a drone launch site. The order is then transferred to a drone and flown to another drop site. From there a Swiggy driver will make the final delivery by motorcycle to the customer’s doorstep.
It also means you likely won’t actually see the drone bringing you your food (like what other drone delivery companies such as Wing are doing), since a human on a motorbike ultimately brings it to your door.
For what it’s worth, a drone delivering to doorsteps — especially in highly dense areas, like Ropar — is unfeasible, for now.
“Population density is high,” said Amit Ganjoo, founder and CEO of ANRA, a UTM company headquartered in Virginia that is largely facilitating the deliveries. “Factoring in terrain and obstacles, it is not practical to have a drone deliver to the doorstep given the environmental variables.”
The current version of the SmartSkies Delivery app only tracks the drone while it’s in the air, so you won’t necessarily see it transitioning to the bike, though Ganjoo said they have multimodal tracking in the works.
Behind the scenes, the deliveries are enabled by ANRA SmartSkies CTR and SmartSkies Delivery platforms. Though, the ANRA SmartSkies Delivery app simply runs in the background of the main Swiggy app, so the customer experience remains with Swiggy.
For now, the deliveries are restricted to a 8 sq. km area around the IIT Campus in Ropar. For context, 8 sq. km is about half the size of the Los Angeles International Airport, and about 2.5x the size of New York’s Central Park. Ganjoo said there will be about 10 launch and drop sites.
Ganjoo said that for now, most of the initial flights will not fly over people — though he added that could change as testing continues.
What this means for broader drone deliveries in India, and worldwide
The delivery announcement comes in the wake of news that ANRA Technologies, a drone traffic management and operations company led the charge for the Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation to grant exemptions for drones flying behind the operator’s line of sight.
If the pilot project is successful, it could further establish ANRA as a leader in the development of India’s nationwide operational UAS Traffic Management platform called Digital Sky. It also presents opportunities to further research and test UTM-related concerns like Remote ID, reliability, and interaction between UTM service suppliers. Experts have long said that establishing UTM systems that work is key to enabling large-scale drone deliveries.
This project is already taking things a step further than most drone deliveries by including secure, two-way text communication between drone pilots and airport towers. Authorized tower personnel can communicate with drone pilots using SmartSkies technology, which likely wouldn’t come into play except in the event of an emergency.
While the deliveries won’t start until coronavirus-related lockdowns lift, the people behind the project say coronavirus proves a need for food deliveries via drone.
“The recent COVID 19 has shown that remote and unmanned delivery of essential items can not only be a useful business proposition but can be a life-saving endeavor aimed at restricting infections under such emergencies,” said S K Das, Director at IIT Ropar.