Drone technology's next big leap: 3-minute fast food deliveries

Drone technology's next big leap: 3-minute fast food deliveries
Bobby Healy, founder of Manna

A pizza delivery by drone in three minutes may sound like something from a sci-fi movie, but tech entrepreneur Bobby Healy insists it will be a reality across Ireland by next year.

Mr Healy, whose latest venture is Manna, says the drone delivery startup is starting with food "because it's the biggest thing that gets delivered in terms of volume."

However, following an initial roll-out from an undisclosed town or city, he is looking at providing a service to pharmacies and convenience stores "or anything else that the local economy needs."

Manna recently signed a deal with food-ordering platform, Flipdish, giving it access to over 1,000 restaurants around Ireland.

The former chief technology officer of car rental platform, CarTrawler, says Manna made a recent decision to launch in the US early in 2020 following regulatory changes there.

Manna's drones are 0.9 metres-wide - as Mr Healy describes, about the size of a seagull - they travel at 80 km per hour at a height of 80 to 100 metres, dropping down to 15 metres to unload its delivery.

Customers within a 2 km radius can expect delivery in less than three minutes. "It will fly from your local fish and chippers and from the moment they load the food we’ll be at your house in two to three minutes. You’ll get a notification on your phone saying we’ve arrived," Mr Healy says.

"So, you hit the button to accept delivery, and then the aircraft descends to about 15 metres, it hovers there and then it lowers the food down on a biodegradable linen thread."

He predicts that Manna’s speedy service will transform consumer behaviour. Instead of going to the supermarket, people will be able to order ingredients they need for a meal they’re about to prepare.

While Mr Healy admits that while the concept may seem futuristic, it’s set to become a reality across the country by the end of 2019 or early next year.

"It does sound like Mission:Impossible stuff. But we’ve shown that it’s completely practical."

"When Ireland will see this thing going throttle up, people will go from disbelievers to converts in about 60 seconds. The technology, hardware and the software is ready. We have our deal with Flipdish, and all that remains is to switch it on and get going."

He says that Manna has been "blessed" with the Irish Aviation Authority, which along with the Swiss regulators, are "way ahead in terms of their outlook and their willingness to support the drone airspace."

Regulations are in place and Manna's team of 16 people - five based in NovaUCD and 11 in Pontypool in Wales - are working on completing the paperwork.

"The ball is in our court now. We have to demonstrate to them that we are as safe as we say we are which involves flying thousands of flights."

As pioneers in the space, Manna has few competitors– one is Wing, an off-shoot of Google parent company, Alphabet, which recently launched its service in Finland and Australia.

Mr Healy says that "999 out of 1,000 people are excited and can’t wait to see it, but many are wondering if the sky is going to be full of big giant things flying around."

But, he says that even at peak operating capacity "you’ll look up, and you won’t see anything. It will be like when a bird flies miles up in the air - it’s a dot."

Manna has received "a number of millions of euros" in investment from venture capital firms including Elkstone, Atlantic Bridge and Frontline. The injection of funding is a vote of confidence by "heavy hitters" who believe in the project, according to Mr Healy.

Once up and running, around 80% to 90% of the Irish population will be able to avail of the service. The exception is those who live in city centres because of the issues of wind patterns around tall buildings.

Mr Healy expects roll-out to be fast.

"This isn’t like a 3G or 4G or 5G. Once we get our licence, we’ll fly in a few places for early 2020, and then we make a plan for mid to end 2020 to put it everywhere in the country. There won’t be a chipper, a Chinese or a pizza place without drone delivery."

He doesn’t foresee any change in delivery charges.

"We can operate the thing very cost-effectively. It’s a robot, essentially, and you don’t pay the robots.

"Consumers get a far better experience than waiting for a delivery driver, and the restaurant gets an incredible logistics platform for their product that enables them to sell more chicken chow mein or burger and fries or whatever."

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