Drone-delivered meals come to Shanghai, but they’re dropped off by … a human?

drone delivered meals in shanghai meal delivery by
Ele.me

Drone-delivered meals is now a thing in Shanghai with a new service launching in recent days on the outskirts of the Chinese city.

Hungry folks living and working in Shanghai’s Jinshan Industrial Park can now fire up an app, choose their lunch or dinner, and have it delivered by … a human being.

OK, let us explain.

The drone service isn’t door to door. Instead, ele.me — the Alibaba-owned company operating the service — is using the technology to increase delivery speeds by flying meals along 17 pre-defined routes, bypassing busy roads that would ordinarily ensure your meal arrives late as well as cold. The industrial park covers an area of about 22 square miles ( 58 square km) and ele.me claims it can deliver meals within just 20 minutes of being ordered, the South China Morning Post reports.

It works like this: You use the app to select a meal from one of 100 food outlets in the area. When the meal is ready, a delivery rider collects it and takes it a short distance to the nearest drone station. The drone carries the meal to the drone station nearest to your location. Another delivery rider takes the food to your door.

Ele.me said at a launch event that the drone service will reduce its operating costs by a significant amount compared to regular road-based delivery, adding that it has the potential to boost the income of its delivery personnel by as much as a factor of five.

With a growing number of delivery companies grappling to find a workable drone platform that’s both safe and efficient, ele.me’s solution seems to fit the bill. With regulatory bodies worried about chaos in the skies, flying drones along fixed routes to drone stations seems like a logical approach until an effective drone air traffic control system can be devised, especially for urban areas. Other companies, Airbus among them, are looking at similar setups for package delivery by drone. Another bonus is that the system should prevent the rapid offloading of delivery personnel.

Ele.me, meanwhile, clearly sees technology as vital to its future success. Last year, it unveiled a food-delivery robot for so-called last mile deliveries inside office buildings. Chief operating officer Kang Jia said this week that his company is looking to introduce its second-generation food delivery robots, which will cover more than 500 office buildings in major Chinese cities, later this year.