Uber has announced it’s developing a new drone it hopes to use for Uber Eats deliveries one day. Eric Allison, the head of Uber Elevate, talked about the new drone in Detroit yesterday at the Forbes Under 30 Summit. And while the mock-up design looks pretty cool, with rotating wings and six rotors, the details released so far raise some red flags.
According to Forbes (emphasis ours):
The new drone design can carry dinner for up two people and features six rotors, the company says. Its battery is designed for eight minutes, including loading and unloading, and it can only do relatively short hauls. The drone has a roundtrip range of 12 miles, or a total flight time of 18 minutes.
The battery lasts for just eight minutes but it has a total flight time of 18 minutes? How is that supposed to work? Your guess is as good as ours, since Uber did not reply to an email early Tuesday.
[Update 7:15 am ET: In an email this morning, Uber now says that Forbes isn’t correct about its battery life but didn’t provide an estimate to Gizmodo. Apparently Uber told Forbes that the drone is “designed to perform a maximum delivery leg in eight minutes including loading and unloading,” which the Forbes author confused for battery life.]
[Update 8:30 am ET: Forbes appears to have changed its article without any notice of an update. The paragraph that we quoted above was in the original article.]
But even if you can successfully square that circle, it appears Uber Eats isn’t banking on delivering food directly to your door anytime soon. The company has previously said that it will deliver food via drone to a central staging area and that Uber drivers in cars will pick them up and ultimately deliver the package to your door. Meanwhile, companies like Alphabet, under its Wing brand, have been successfully conducting drone delivery tests for food and medicine in Australia and will soon begin similar testing in Virginia. Unlike Uber, Wing is delivering its items directly to the customer’s home.
According to Forbes, Uber Eats doesn’t even plan to test this drone design until next summer in San Diego. But if Uber’s history of failed promises are any indication, this thing is probably just vaporware—a futuristic product that won’t actually get released into the real world. All we have from Uber is a computer rendering of the drone, and we’ve seen plenty of computer renderings from this company in the past, with absolutely no follow-through.
Remember back in February of 2017 when we heard that Uber’s flying cars were just two years away? The company has had to revise that estimate again and again, but it hasn’t stopped releasing promotional videos and flashy computer graphics promising that air taxis are just over the horizon.
Remember back in May of 2018 when Uber released that ridiculous design for an autonomous aerial taxi concept for passenger flight that we called the Spruce Goose of the 21st century? Again, we got plenty of splashy computer animations, but we have yet to see anything flying in the real world.
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told CBS News back in 2018 that his aerial taxis would soon be zipping around the country at up to 200 miles per hour. But Uber can’t even get its autonomous vehicles on the ground working properly. Uber’s self-driving car even killed a cyclist back in March of 2018.
Maybe Uber really needs to keep people hoping for something shiny and futuristic that’s just around the corner. Because as it stands, Uber is losing billions of dollars every year. In fact, Uber Eats loses an estimated $3.36 on every single order that it fulfills. And analysts insist that it will keep losing a lot of money until at least 2024.
Delivery drones are an exciting field for companies that hope to get packages and food from point A to point B as quickly as possible. But any way you slice it, Uber seems to be way behind its rivals. And while Uber has gotten really good at making futuristic-looking computer animations, it will have to deliver a real drone at some point if it wants to succeed.
Unless, of course, Uber plans to follow the flying car playbook that has worked for over a century. Keep telling the public that your product is just two years away. Forever.