The future of food delivery, or pie in the sky? Pizza Hut Israel plans to test delivering pizza by drone starting this summer, in a government pilot test that may pave the way for autonomous drone deliveries by other companies throughout Israel in the coming years.
In the first phase of the project, starting in June, the Pizza Hut in Kfar Yona, a small town near Netanya, will deliver pizzas by autonomous drone to nearby customers who can’t be serviced directly by that branch, said Udi Shamai, CEO of Pizza Hut Israel. (A previous report said deliveries would come from a different branch, Bnei Dror, but that has been changed, Shamai said.)
The driverless drones will not deliver the orders to customers’ homes, but to about 12 designated drop spots, like parking lots, which will be approved for such use by the government. From there, drivers will be waiting to pick up the pies and complete the delivery.
“You have to understand that the vision some people had of a drone flying directly to your balcony to deliver a package – it’s not going to work that way anytime in the near future,” Shamai said. “There are too many issues of privacy, noise and safety that need to be considered.”
The test project was initiated by government ministries that want to explore the feasibility of using autonomous drones in Israel, said Yoel Or, CEO of Cando, which is providing the logistics for the last-mile deliveries.
“The government launched a tender for the technology providers, and then, after we were chosen, Pizza Hut was selected as the food provider for the project,” said Or. “There are also several other pilot projects going on at the same time testing drones for other tasks, including in the security field, although none of the teams on those projects are as far along as we are.”
For the pizza delivery project, Pizza Hut is working with Cando for last-mile logistics; Ra’anana-based High Lander for drone fleet management; and Australian restaurant-management software provider Dragontail Systems to manage the order distribution inside Pizza Hut.
“The country likes this project because it could be a very cost-effective and efficient way to change the way products are transported, and decrease the amount of traffic on the road,” Shamai said.
Or said that if all goes well, many large retailers and restaurants could begin drone deliveries in the next 18 months, although the challenges are not small.
“There are a lot of questions – about security, privacy, safety, and other things,” he said. “Weather is a big issue, as drones aren’t a great option during bad weather. We are testing all these scenarios.”
Shipment weight is another sticking point.
“These drones can actually carry 25 kilograms, but the government won’t let us carry more than 2.5 kilos for now,” roughly the equivalent of two pies and a drink, Or said. “We hope that they will let us raise the limit as the test progresses.”
Only a small number of drones will be employed in the first phase of the project, Shamai noted. Testing of the drone projects is currently being done in Hadera, with the project slated to go live in June from Kfar Yona, located at the outskirts of Israel’s crowded central region.
Leading American retailers like Amazon and Wal-Mart have also been developing drone delivery capabilities, and the technology is becoming more feasible, Or said.
“In the near future, drone landing zones will be the new post office,” he said.