PIZZA THE ACTION

The future is here: Drones are delivering Domino’s pizzas to customers

It’s a brave new world—for pizza.

For residents of the town of Whangaparaoa in New Zealand, Domino’s pizza is now just a short drone delivery away. The company announced today that it delivered its first pizzas to actual customers using drones, after testing the service out this summer.

To order a pizza with a drone, a customer has to opt into the service, and can then order online or through the Domino’s app to get the pie they desire. Right now, Domino’s told Quartz, the drones have a delivery radius of 1.5 km (about one mile) from the Whangaparaoa store, but the company is aiming to expand that to about 10 km (roughly six miles). The drones travel at 30 kmph (18 mph), and the goal is to be able to eventually provide 10-minute deliveries for pizzas sent by drones for that 10 km radius. Right now, the drone-delivery service is only available at this single Domino’s location, but the company said that it plans to make it available at more New Zealand stores in the future.

Delivery itself seems surprisingly simple, given that it involves a robot flying itself around suburban towns. The customer’s pizzas are placed in a regular pizza box, and then loaded into a sturdier cardboard box that connects to the bottom of the drone. The drone then lifts off and flies to the customer’s house. It hovers above their backyard, and lowers the pizza box down by a tow cable, which detaches. Then it flies back to Domino’s, as the customers enjoy their hopefully still warm, and not smushed, meal.

The technology behind Domino’s drone deliveries was created by Flirtey, the drone company that completed the first government-sanctioned drone-delivery test in the US in 2015. Flirtey has been delivering goods in New Zealand for years, and has been working with Domino’s there since the summer. Flirtey staff will be loading the drones and managing the flights for Domino’s. For now, customers will need to have a backyard with enough space to safely drop the pizzas into, but Flirtey told Quartz that it’s working on how to offer the service to customers with less spacious living situations.

A robot delivered this happy couple a pizza from the sky. (Flirtey)

Both Domino’s and Flirtey have designs to conduct drone deliveries in other countries. Domino’s said that it “would love to continue to trial and rollout” drone deliveries in Australia, but current regulations forbid autonomous deliveries, unlike in New Zealand, where they are permitted. Domino’s is also in discussion with various government agencies in other countries about potential deliveries.

Like other companies that rely on the labor of a massive army of human workers (see Uber or Amazon), Domino’s has invested quite a bit in robotics research. The company has an entire technology arm devoted to developing robot delivery systems, called the Domino’s Robotic Unit, and it rolled out a self-navigating delivery robot in March that it’s also testing in Australia. This could be seen as research into cost-cutting methods for machines that don’t need breaks or salaries, like humans do, but at the time its robot launch, Domino’s global CEO Don Meij told LifeHacker Australia that the goal of the research was to replace relatively unsafe delivery cars and bikes with smaller robots. He also added: “I think drivers are going to be around for a long time.”

Flirtey now has its sights set on the US drone market. It recently moved its headquarters from New Zealand to Reno, Nevada, in the US, and has conducted myriad tests with the blessing of the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), including delivering medical supplies in rural Virginia, and to a boat off the coast of New Jersey.

In June, the FAA announced a long overdue set of regulations governing commercial drone use in the US, but the rules do not allow for flights beyond the line of sight of the pilot controlling the drone. This means that companies like Google, Amazon, and Walmart, all of which have said they want to deliver products with drones, have had their ambitions put on ice for the time being, at least in the US. The FAA has not ruled out amending its rules in the future, however, once it feels a safe system for autonomous drone deliveries has been established. Flirtey, along with others, is working with the FAA to turn that into a reality.

But for now, if you’re hankering for flying-robot-delivered pizza, your best bet is a small peninsula in New Zealand.

home our picks popular latest obsessions search