Uber is pretty serious about delivering your burger (or burrito, or the customer’s choice of food) by drone, and is accelerating its plans to make that happen. A Wall Street Journal article reports that Uber is looking to hire someone to oversee its food delivery drones program. Reports say Uber recently ran a job posting seeking a candidate who could get delivery drones up and running as early as next year and commercially operational in numerous cities by 2021.
That job listing, titled “Flight Standards and Training,” has since been deleted, but it highlights Uber’s serious ambitions about its growth in the food delivery space. At this year’s Uber Elevate Summit in May, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi discussed the possibility of a drone-based food delivery service. Uber can’t just be about cars,’ Khosrowshahi said way back in May. “It has to be about mobility. It’s my personal belief that a key to solving urban mobility is flying burgers, in any city. We need flying burgers.”
Uber Eats has skyrocketed in growth at a $6 billion sales run rate reportedly but faces competition from incumbents like GrubHub, which recently acquired Tapingo to snag college student customers, and from startups like DoorDash, which has raised more than $780 million this year alone to expand its delivery operations (which probably will include drones). The Journal states that Uber is eyeing a potential IPO next year that could value the company at $120 billion. Being early with drone deployment to boost its already successful Uber Eats division could help boost its image for its public offering. The Wall Street Journal’s report speculates the drone-based delivery service has been dubbed “UberExpress,” and will exist under the umbrella of Uber Eats.
Many big league companies or big fish have been testing the waters of drone delivery services: Amazon made its first drone delivery via Prime Air in 2016, and Alphabet ramped up their drone delivery service last year. Regulations regarding drone operations are very complicated and stringent, however, so there are a lot of legal hurdles companies must overcome before we start seeing widespread drones-as-a-service take off.
Uber has talked about creating a drone delivery service for many months and envisions a future beyond ridesharing by announcing last week that the company is planning to expand into the trucking industry, and is working on the development of a flying taxi service. It’s also been tinkering with the ideas of on-demand staffing and electric scooter rental as well. In an announcement from September, Khosrowshahi detailed a plan outlining a new focus on “sustainable mobility” that emphasized Uber’s dedication to expanding the other sectors of its business.
Despite Uber’s ever-widening portfolio, and its previous discussion on drone-based food delivery, UberExpress is far from a certainty. The company clearly sees a future where drones play a key role. Uber is participating in a commercial drone testing program administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation – a program that notably left out Amazon as a participant.