Projects

Uber Technologies Inc. has already made its plans for drone taxis clear.  Uber published a white paper outlining its plans for “on demand aviation” back in 2016.

While drone taxis in the US may seem to be a long way off, Uber has a shorter time frame for augmenting the popular Uber Eats service with food delivery drones, called within the company “Uber Express.”

In these days, large companies just can’t keep secrets.  The Wall Street Journal reports that Uber is advertising for an “operations executive” to bring the delivery drone project to implementation as soon as next year – and scale to other markets by 2021.  When the Journal contacted Uber for details, the company removed a related listing, saying it was still in “very early days.”

Uber’s efforts at being first passenger drones, however, are not secret – and they have made progress.  Uber started a drone advertising campaign in 2016.  Last November, the company established a testing relationship with NASA to partner on UTM testing – establishing themselves as a stakeholder in low-altitude commercial operations.  At that time, Uber said that they hoped to test drone taxis in Los Angeles as early as 2020.  In May of this year, Uber formed a research and development agreement with the U.S. Army to work on silent vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) passenger drones.

While Uber Elevate and the idea of passenger drones is a grand, paradigm shifting technology; Uber Express seems at first glance a more modest plan.  Uber Eats has become an important part of the company, The Wall Street Journal reports that UberEats is valued at approximately $20 billion.    Adding drones to the mix – which could both improve service to customers and cut down on driver costs – could boost the division even higher.

Challenges are certainly significant.  While delivery of medical supplies in remote areas like Rwanda have been successful, those systems don’t translate well to populated areas.  Residential drone delivery has been something of a holy grail for large companies like Amazon, who have invested significant resources in the project – and they aren’t there yet.  Manufacturing drones has proved very challenging for many companies not in the aerospace sector.  Regulations don’t yet support the scale implementation of drones in residential areas.  And a reasonable solution to support delivery in the last 50 feet of the trip just hasn’t been perfected.

But with one more large company working towards the goal, drone delivery doesn’t seem too far away.

Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
Email Miriam
TWITTER:@spaldingbarker

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