How are drones used in iFood delivery?

Devices complement delivery and help orders reach hard-to-reach places

In January 2022, iFood became the first company in the Americas to be allowed to use drones in delivery. A Anac (National Civil Aviation Agency) authorized the use of devices developed by Speedbird to deliver loads of up to 2.5 kg on routes of up to 3 km across the country.

But what changes in iFood's operation when drones enter the scene?

Firstly, requests can reach places previously considered unviable. This is the case of route between Aracaju and Barra dos Coqueiros, in Sergipe. As the two cities are only connected by a bridge, the heavy traffic on this access meant the delivery time could take up to 55 minutes.

“Without the drone, we would not have delivery in this area. A delivery that takes an hour makes the operation unfeasible”, comments Leilane Melo, coordinator of innovation and future of logistics at iFood. “The drone makes this journey in 5 minutes, reducing the total delivery time in Barra dos Coqueiros to 15 minutes.”

What doesn't change is that customers will continue to receive their orders from delivery partners. On routes operated by iFood, drones are only used to reduce travel time in sections that are difficult to navigate by land — such as around a lake, a mountain range or where the roads are very congested.

“The drone operation is complementary to other forms of delivery. It will not be used to replace delivery drivers, but rather to take orders to places that iFood previously did not access”, says Leilane. “We will always need delivery people on this last leg. The drone does not arrive at customers’ homes, it was not designed for this function.”

The order journey

At iFood, drones will be used to complement deliveries. With them on the field, the delivery operation is a little different. Upon receiving an order, the partner restaurant assesses whether that meal can be transported on the drone, that is, whether it weighs up to 2.5 kg and has dimensions compatible with the device's transport box.

When the food is ready, an iFood courier takes the order to the droneport, which is a special area authorized for landing and taking off of drones and strategically located close to the demand for orders.

Once there, the Speedbird team places the order in the shipping box and the drone takes off. As the route between droneports It is pre-planned, the flight is automated, and the route is monitored by professionals in the operational center, who can intervene if there is a problem.

Upon landing, the drone automatically drops the transport box on the ground and flies back. Meanwhile, the Speedbird team picks up the order at droneport and delivery to a delivery partner, who completes the journey to the customer's home. “Instead of trying to land inside the living areas, we chose to do it in an external area, transforming the droneport in a distribution hub”, explains Juliana Saad, director of new business at SpeedBird. “We combine modes to contemplate the challenge the route faces in a more positive way.”

Drone Stubbornness

Will they replace the delivery drivers?

No. The drone is a complementary modal, which only performs part of the delivery, generally the part that is challenging to travel by land. “Our objectives are clear with drones: they are there to overcome difficulties on the route, but we will always work with the delivery people”, emphasizes Leilane.

Can drones collide?

No, as each drone flies on a pre-defined route, previously authorized by aviation authorities. Nor do they run the risk of colliding with planes and helicopters, because they fly in a specific band, from 30 to 120 meters high.

Do they avoid birds?

Due to the history observed in aviation, regulatory bodies did not ask us to study birds. “We have no record of incidents like this. Due to the size of our drone, they have remained distant. We will remain alert to carry out studies and adjustments if necessary”, says Juliana Saad, director of new business at SpeedBird.

Does the drone camera film me?

No, it doesn't film. “Our cameras are low resolution, only for transmitting images in real time, there is no filming. They are only used for navigation and support during landing procedures”, explains Juliana.

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