San Diego residents might see the drones in the sky, but not yet at their doors.

By Mike Pomranz
Updated June 12, 2019
Credit: Courtesy of Uber Eats

When discussing drone delivery, some people may picture a future where tiny flying robots bring goodies right to your house. In San Diego, at least, the future is now, kinda: Uber Eats has announced it will begin testing commercial food delivery, but don’t expect any drones knocking on your door. In fact, you might not see the drones at all.

Last year, the Federal Aviation Administration chose Uber and San Diego to be part of its Integration Pilot Program, allowing tests of food delivery by drone in the city. These tests have been conducted in tandem between two Uber divisions: Uber Eats and Uber Elevate. Uber Eats, you probably know; Uber Elevate, meanwhile, handles the more technical side of the drone delivery thanks to its Elevate Cloud Systems, billed as “a new, dynamic and proprietary airspace management system that tracks and guides all drone flights to take off, fly and land independently.”

Credit: Courtesy of Uber Eats

Here’s the twist though: As a consumer, for now, you could potentially never know a drone was involved in your delivery because your meal will still be hand-delivered to your door by an Uber Eats driver. For the San Diego tests, drones only bring the food from the restaurant to the driver, cutting down on the amount of time drivers have to waste getting to and from restaurants.

“You go into any restaurant, and there’s seven people waiting to pick up food to drive it to somebody’s house. It’s a great convenience for people,” Stanley Maloy, Associate VP, Research & Innovation at San Diego State University, who was involved with the project, explained in a promotional video. “But if you could make it more convenient with drones that got there even faster, that’s a phenomenal improvement.”

More specifically, restaurants will put meals into specially-designed boxes that can be attached to a drone. From there, Elevate Cloud Systems tells an Uber Eats driver to meet the drone at a predetermined drop-off location. Then, the driver grabs the box and brings it the rest of the way.

Credit: Courtesy of Uber Eats

And that’s just the start. “In the future, Uber Elevate looks to leverage Uber’s rides network to enable the drones to land safely and securely atop parked vehicles located near each delivery location through QR code correspondence,” Uber explained in the announcement. Yes, it sounds a bit like a stunt from a Hollywood action flick — albeit not quite as exciting.

So far, Uber says it has been testing its drone program with McDonald's, but they plan to expand it to other Uber Eats partners later this year, including the more upmarket San Diego restaurant Juniper and Ivy. Whether you’ll notice is TBD.