From testing to flight authorization: the story of the iFood drone

Do you know how iFood managed to become the first company in the Americas to be allowed to use drones in delivery? We tell the whole story here!

What was the step-by-step process for foodtech and Speedbird Aero to obtain the first permission to use drones in delivery

In just under three years, the big dream of using drones to speed up meal delivery went from idea to reality at iFood. In January 2022, the foodtech became the first company in the Americas to be allowed to use drones in delivery, in partnership with Speedbird Aero. The authorization granted by Anac (National Civil Aviation Agency) allows the delivery of loads of up to 2.5 kg and travel routes of up to 3 km.

This journey began in 2019, when the iFood innovation area was prospecting trends in the delivery sector and came across a boom in testing the use of drones around the world. “We looked for Brazilian suppliers and found Speedbird Aero, which was developing a national technology”, says Leilane Melo, coordinator of innovation and future of logistics at iFood.

In June of that year, iFood entered into a Research and Development partnership with Speedbird Aero to test the use of drones to make deliveries. At that time, the aircraft developed by the company had not yet been certified.

Unforeseen events in the pandemic

At the end of 2019, companies still did not have authorization to start the project. “As it is a new operation for everyone, including regulatory bodies, the CAVE (Experimental Flight Authorization Certificate) took longer than expected to be issued,” explains Leilane.

Only in August 2020 did the companies receive the document, which authorizes flights in research and development projects and which gave the green light to begin testing with drones on the first authorized route, which flew over Shopping Iguatemi Campinas (SP).

But there was still the Covid-19 pandemic. “Because we chose a shopping route back in 2019, we had to wait for restrictions to be relaxed before we could start the project, even though we already had all the approvals,” says Leilane.

When the mall reopened, iFood and Speedbird Aero carried out the first test of the drone, in December 2020. In this experiment, the aircraft traveled a route of around 400 meters from the terrace to the iFood Hub at Iguatemi Campinas — the route, which on foot would take 12 minutes, was accomplished in 3 minutes.

The aircraft used in the test was the prototype of what would become the approved drone. The flights were already automated, and accompanied by a specialist in drone operations.

Taking off in 2021

The testing period with the drone in Campinas lasted until March 2021. In just over two months, iFood delivered 306 orders using this new modal, serving 17 restaurants. “We had a goal of number of orders per hour to be reached in six months, and we managed to reach the goal in just two months”, says Leilane.

She says that, at the beginning, the concerns were the most basic, such as getting the drone from one point to another and ensuring that the food did not spill or get cold. “Once the goal was met, we needed a more challenging route and test deliveries in a place that was not yet served by iFood,” he says.

After mapping more than 200 cities, crossing data on land and air transport times and analyzing aircraft use restrictions, iFood defined a new location to test drone delivery: Aracaju.

The challenge would be to cross a coconut grove and a river to take meals to Barra dos Coqueiros and reduce the land journey time, which was 25 to 55 minutes due to the heavy traffic on the only bridge accessing the city.

“The choice was based on the intelligence of the maps team, who saw an opportunity to take iFood to a place that could not be served. Without the drone, we wouldn’t get there”, points out Leilane.

The new tests have been carried out since October 2021, and the use of the aircraft reduced the total delivery time to 15 minutes, with the aerial part covering 2.8 km in 5 minutes and the remainder by land through a partner delivery person.

In January 2022, iFood and Speedbird Aero finally received authorization from Anac to carry out deliveries with drones throughout the national territory, flying at up to 120 meters with loads of up to 2.5 kg — the first step towards using this mode is not pollutant to speed up deliveries.

From there, the foodtech evaluates new routes to enable delivery in inaccessible locations. “Sometimes it's hard to believe, but we got there and with this authorization, we opened doors for more companies to test delivery with drones in Brazil, says Leilane.”

Was this content useful to you?

Related posts