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Do we need drones to deliver pizzas?

If we consider the delivery statistic from just one of the big pizza chains — globally, around one million pizzas are delivered in a day, and the delivery personnel from each of their 11,000 outlets travels 500km each day — then the idea to use UAVs or drones for delivery, appears to be a logical choice. It seems like a faster, environment-friendly and seemingly efficient method. Having said this, and having seen the promo of one such attempt done by a local pizza outlet in Mumbai, the questions and concerns raised would surely take much more than 30 minutes to state. It is not surprising that the local cops objected to this high-tech mode of pizza delivery.

Let me list the concerns after viewing the video from the drone's POV — the first is the drone getting entangled in the communication cables that net the cityscape, and pizza and drone landing on someone's head. This is in addition to other hurdles such as wrong delivery point, mid-air power failure and crash, crows chasing the flying pizza and attacking the drone. Most of these have a geospatial connect and a geospatial solution. The person ordering the pizza needs to have a geo-tagged location, the distance from the pizza shop to the destination calculated, the drone needs to auto-navigate to the destination through a maze of streets using an accurate 3D GIS that would need constant update. There will be a zillion more hurdles and the least and last of which will be the availability of a landing platform for the flying pizza delivery machine. It’s a truly challenging task, just for delivering a pizza. And mind you, we haven't yet discussed the issues of personal privacy violation which would happen as the drone flies through public spaces, and the all important nod from the federal aviation authorities. At the present moment, the drones have to fly below 400ft as per civil aviation norms. So what happens to the customer who orders a pizza on the 41st floor?

It will be some time till we see drones delivering items. Till then, the data aggregators and builders can invest their time and resources for creating a spatial database capable of allowing pizza delivery by a drone.

Published in Geospatial World Weekly May 26, 2014