And here we thought Pizza Hut might be catching up in the pizza tech wars. Domino’s reasserted itself as the leader last week, making that DJ pizza box look like child’s play. They teamed up with drone delivery specialists Flirtey for a successful pizza delivery drone test in Auckland, New Zealand, and this was no publicity stunt. Domino’s and Flirtey have bigger drone plans for New Zealand and, soon enough, maybe even the United States.
Last Thursday’s test wasn’t just to build hype for the coming reality of drone-delivered pizzas. Flirtey and Domino’s were demonstrating the technology in front of regulators and the country’s minister of transport to prove that the drone is compliant with Civil Aviation Rules Part 101, New Zealand’s regulatory framework for drones. The demo was successful, which paves the way for drones to start delivering pizzas to homes as soon as later this year. So, to be clear — the age of flying pizza delivery drones just began. It’s official.
This Flirtey delivery drone is built to haul pizzas, and that means it needs to hold up well enough to not lose any of them. The autonomous quadcopter is made of carbon fiber, aluminum, and some 3D-printed custom parts. A built-in retractable tether lowers the pizza once the drone reaches its destination, with the pizza in a box inside of another box, just in case.
Of course, there has to be plenty more just-in-case tech to make drone delivery viable. If the drone starts to run dangerously low on battery life (which, with drones, can happen frequently enough), it’ll return home before it gets too far out and risks getting stranded. The same goes for a loss of GPS signal — the drone can still turn around and get back to its home Domino’s safely. So, no, you’re not likely to find many crashed drones with free payloads you can make off with, although I get the feeling that won’t stop some people from engaging in Domino’s drone hunts.
Domino’s has the market cornered on autonomous pizza delivery. They showed off their road-bound DRU unit in March — impressive, but not practical. It wasn’t clear how Domino’s would get DRU on city streets, and while the pizza box was securely locked, you know those things would have been easy marks for pizza (and drone) thieves. It’s a whole lot harder to snatch something flying high above ground.
New Zealand is getting pizzas by drone later this year, but what about everyone else? Well, turns out the United States could be next. The Department of Transportation and the FAA finalized commercial drone regulations in June, and those rules go into effect today. That clears the way for test runs in the United States, and if they go as well as the one in New Zealand did, we could be eating drone-delivered pizzas sooner than we thought.