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Pizza, delivered by drone

Home delivery

Mumbai, May 21: It’s a bird…. It’s a plane…. No, it’s a flying pizza.

Doorstep deliveries by drones will have to wait till regulatory guidelines are in place, but a Mumbai pizzeria is practising porting pizza to a patron’s home by a mini-copter-like unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

On May 11, as India readied for the last phase of the national elections, Francesco, a two-year-old boutique pizzeria in the posh Phoenix Mall of Lower Parel, was delivering a pizza to a decoy customer on the 21st-story terrace of a Mumbai highrise a little distance away.

Fahad Azad of Robosoft Systems, whose drones are used by security agencies in Maharashtra, engineered the pizza-delivering drone for Francesco owner and executive chef Mikhel Rajani.

“It was a prototype, there is no plan to put it to commercial use as of now. According to the guidelines of (aviation regulator) DGCA, these UAVs, which fall in the category of remote-controlled hobby aircraft, can be tested so long as they do not fly beyond the visual range. We had the entire flight of our pizza delivering drone videographed. At no time did it fly above a height of 220ft. The upper limit for such flying objects is 400ft,” Azad told The Telegraph.

The video shows a Francesco employee taking down an online order and passing it on to the kitchen, a pizza being crafted, put in a box, attached to a drone and then lifted and guided by a remote-controlled device to the target address.

Rajani, said to be holidaying in Goa, according to his staff, could not be reached by this newspaper, but PTI quoted him as saying that he expected drones to be used widely for commercial deliveries in a few years. “All of us had read about (global e-commerce giant) Amazon’s plans of using drones. We successfully carried out a test-delivery by sending a pizza to a customer located 1.5km away from our outlet on May 11,” Rajani was quoted as saying.

Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, had announced in December 2013 that it was testing unmanned drones called Octocopters to deliver goods to customers. The portal’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos, had announced they could deliver packages weighing up to 2.3kg to customers within 30 minutes of an order being placed, but the service would take a few more years to materialise because of regulatory concerns.

The US Federal Aviation Administration is yet to approve the use of unmanned drones for civilian purposes.

“Like Amazon, from a technology point of view, we want to be ready to enter commercial operations as soon as the necessary regulations are in place,” said Robosoft’s Azad, whose company is one among many manufacturing customised drones for commercial use.

And like Amazon, the test run of Francesco’s flying delivery machine is also more of a PR pipedream as of now.