First it was autonomous pizza-dispensing robots. Now, Domino's is bringing a fleet of pizza delivery drones to the masses. If the headline-hungry company can be believed, New Zealand customers will soon be receiving pizzas from the skies via a technology partnership with drone delivery service Flirtey.
Domino's has proudly proclaimed its new initiative as the first commercial drone delivery service in the world. However, there's no timeframe for when the service will be available and the service is still seeking approval from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Hmmm.
Today, Domino’s Pizza and Flirtey showed off the "first stage" of its pizza drone in Auckland, New Zealand. Dubbed DRU Drone, or Domino’s Robotic Unit Drone, the device is apparently capable of delivering pizzas to customers much faster than traditional methods due to its ability to circumvent traffic and other geographic restrictions. It will also be able to serve a much wider radius than vehicular delivery. The only drawback is that it will only be able to operate in calm weather conditions.
If Domino's can be believed, this latest futuristic venture has nothing to do with grabbing headlines and was precipitated by a significant increase in deliveries compared to a few years ago.
“With the increased number of deliveries we make each year, we were faced with the challenge of ensuring our delivery times continue to decrease and that we strive to offer our customers new and progressive ways of ordering from us," Domino’s managing director, Don Meij said in a statement.
“Research into different delivery methods led us to Flirtey. Their success within the airborne delivery space has been impressive and it’s something we have wanted to offer our customers.
"Adding innovation such as drone deliveries means customers can experience cutting-edge technology and the convenience of having their Supreme pizza delivered via air to their door. This is the future."
So when will the DRU Drone be making its official debut? This is where things get a bit dubious. Currently, the service has only been approved to conduct limited trials by the CAA in New Zealand.
Here's the explanation from Domino:
"At this stage our partner Flirtey is in the process of gaining the approval to do commercial flights. No commercial flights to customers will take place until the approval process is complete."
In other words, it's all very much still in the planning stages. A cynic would wonder whether this is a PR stunt first and a committed business strategy second. It's worth noting that Domino's original DRU robot has been conspicuously absent from roads since its much-hyped reveal in March.
"Our original DRU is still undergoing testing in a semi-autonomous manner. We are committed to progressing his development, however as he was the first in the world of his kind we are discovering new things about him all the time and working with customer’s feedback to make changes and enhancements," Domino's explained.
The problem with these future product announcements is that they don't promise to deliver anything tangible. At the moment, we're just getting a sneak peek into the early development of a product that might never be launched. It's cool and all, but not yet a tangible reality.
We've included Domino's FAQs below, but we advise taking all of this with a big grain of salt. We'll believe it when we see it.
Domino’s & Flirtey Partnership - FAQs
Q: Why is Domino’s introducing drones?
We are committed to introducing drones to our stores as an additional delivery option for our customers. We have had such an increase in the number of deliveries we are currently doing from our stores and see a need for a new method to be added to our delivery systems. We still have a strong need for more delivery experts in our store.
We have been working with our partner, Flirtey to ensure we will have the necessary Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) approval and are committed to researching the best way to proceed forward for our staff, our products and our customers.
Q. Is this Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) Approved
At this stage our partner Flirtey is in the process of gaining the approval to do commercial flights. No commercial flights to customers will take place until the approval process is complete. Stage one is the partnership between Domino’s and Flirtey and stage two will be the CAA approved deliveries, once approval has been given.
Q: How does DRU DRONES fit in with current delivery options?
We see drone delivery working alongside the current Domino’s delivery options of cars, scooters, e-bikes – and of course our Domino’s Robotic Unit, DRU which we launched in March this year.
The drones will be used on deliveries that are deemed suitable and fit within the regulatory approvals. We envisage this to be where customers want their deliveries in the fastest way possible, and also where the distance from the store is greater than a vehicular delivery would be suitable or where there are traffic or geographic restrictions that hinder the quality of a delivery.
What stage of development is DRU at?
DRU stands for Domino’s Robotic Unit and is much more than the wonderful Robot we launched in March. He was the beginning of our journey in the Artificial Intelligence space and will always have a place in the Domino’s delivery solution, however we are committed to bringing new solutions to our business. These new solutions will all be part of our commitment to the DRU family, such as the drones, who will be referred to as DRU DRONE.
Our original DRU is still undergoing testing in a semi-autonomous manner. We are committed to progressing his development, however as he was the first in the world of his kind we are discovering new things about him all the time and working with customer’s feedback to make changes and enhancements.
Q: What are the proposed timeframes?
Domino’s and Flirtey have invested a great deal of time and energy into this process so far and with CAA approval we are able to plan for the commencement of the trial process scheduled for later this year.
Our initial CAA approved trials of customer deliveries will start with a select product range and within a limited distance for the store. The product options and delivery distance will expand throughout the trial process as we successfully complete each of our steps.
The quality of our products arriving to customers safely is our number one priority throughout all stages of testing and launching pizza drone deliveries.
Q: What are the steps taken to avoid theft or vandalism?
Flirtey’s staff work with Domino’s team members to safely load the delivery drones at the store. The drones fly autonomously at a safe altitude of approximately 60metres/200ft and the customer is notified as the delivery is approaching. The deliveries are then made to the home of the customer by safely lowering the package out of the air. This process ensures the delivery drones always remain a safe distance from the public.
Flirtey also has an inbuilt cutting mechanism so in the event someone tries to pull on the tether to interfere with the drone, it is released automatically and the drone is able to fly away undamaged.
Q: How smooth is the flight?
An in depth trial process over an extended period will ensure we design a system that allows for all of our products. This is part of the quality standards testing we will be undertaking during our trial phase.
Delivering the pizzas in the same quality they came out of the oven in the store and arrived to the customer’s door is paramount and is fundamental to the success of the drone delivery.
Q: How will quality be monitored?
The trial process has been designed to thoroughly test the quality of the product and ensure our high standards have been met. We will be starting with smaller distances to previously identified customers that allow us to thoroughly determine that the quality of our product is high and our health and safety regulations have been met. We will also work closely with customers to get their feedback throughout every stage just as we are doing with DRU – the Domino’s Robotic Unit in Australia.
Q: Is there any information on what happens with a malfunction – does this go back to the store?
There are various contingency plans in place depending on the location of the drone and type of malfunction. For example, the drone may return to the store or conduct a safe landing in a pre-designated landing area. The trial process will allow us to identify the best scenario for our particular business needs.
Q: How is it confirmed the order is received by the right person?
During the initial phases of the trial we are only delivering directly to the customer’s home and the customer is notified as the delivery is arriving. As we scale operations, we may integrate various methods of verification including capturing an image of the recipient and/or using smartphone-based methods of validation. This will be a key part of the design process and we will be able to take key learnings from our other Robotic Units as to what the best solution for our customers.
Q: Are the deliveries with a drone weather dependent?
Yes, during the initial phases of the trial, we will deliver in calm weather conditions, with reduced operations during high winds and rains and traditional delivery methods will be available as a backup for customer delivery in these instances.
It is paramount to us that safety is taken into consideration at all times, this includes our customers receiving the orders and the general public. We will be testing the limits of our delivery process throughout the trial in a controlled test situation, and it may turn out that some areas are more suitable for a drone delivery than others. This information is exactly what we hope to learn from the trial phase.
Q: What is required at the store level for a drone to be loaded and released?
Initially, trained Domino’s team members will provide the customer and order information to Flirtey (including order composition, customer location and where relevant customer phone number), package the order, and then hand the package to Flirtey staff to load the drone.
Once this is out of the trial phase and working, we will have trained drone specialist staff within each store.
Q: What land area / clearance is needed for a drone to be released?
There are various considerations that are required to determine if a store is valid. The indepth trial phase that is proposed will help us identify how we turn our theory into practice. As operations scale over time, we will work with our partner Flirtey and continue to gain the necessary regulatory approvals to increase the number of eligible stores.
Q: What speed and range can the drones go to?
During the initial phases of the trial, our drones will operate at approximately 30km/h and at an initial radius of 1.5km from select stores. As we work with Flirtey to expand regulatory approvals, this radius will increase incrementally up to approximately 10km from select stores.
Q: What are the requirements for a Drone around 3G/4G or satellite connectivity?
We require reliable GPS and prefer to be in range of 3G/4G network (although this is not a formal requirement). We are working with our existing GPS partner, Navman, to integrate into our existing system to offer a seamless experience for our customers.
Q: Will these have security features on them?
Safety of both the customer and public is paramount as with DRU. Therefore, Flirtey drones use military grade autopilot technology and encrypted communications.
Q: Will these have cameras on them?
Our partner, Flirtey, has worked with the office of the Privacy Commissioner in New Zealand and actively participated in developing Voluntary Best Practices for UAS Privacy, Transparency, and Accountability in collaboration with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration in the United States.
Q: How close can the drones work to an Airport?
The use of a drone for a delivery in close proximity to an airport will be decided on a case-by-case basis in collaboration with CAA and safety is paramount in all our operations.