Manna from heaven? In Dublin, ice cream will soon deliver via drone

February 26, 2020, 1:00 PM UTC

Ireland might not be the first place where a person would expect to find drones delivering Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, but Manna, a drone delivery company, says it’s ready to make it happen.

The Dublin, Ireland-based company announced its first pilot program on Wednesday, which will allow anyone to order Ben & Jerry’s ice cream or a meal from a local Thai restaurant and have it dropped at a pick-up point on the University College Dublin campus. The company says its drones can deliver from restaurant to drop zone in less than three minutes.

All drone delivery orders will be placed through Just Eat, an app that is akin to Seamless, DoorDash, and Uber Eats in the U.S.

“You order whatever you want off the menu and pay just as you usually do,” Manna CEO Bobby Healy tells Fortune. “The only real difference is that after the food is prepared, it takes less than three minutes for it to be delivered from the air.”

After placing an order, a customer will be able to “meet” their drone at the designated pick-up spot. The drones use GPS to help locate the correct customer, who will then confirm in the Just Eat app that they are ready to receive their order.

A Manna drone will then gently drop a couple pints of Cherry Garcia, pad thai⁠, or whatever the order⁠ from a shopping basket-sized compartment. It will then fly back to Manna’s kitchen to pick up its next order.

The company is cheekily named after Manna, which is the food from the heavens mentioned in the Hebrew Bible.

A company spokesperson declined to say how many drones would be a part of the pilot program fleet, but says adjustments would be made to meet demand after its first 200 deliveries.

While the delivery drones will be a new sight in the community, Healy says they are designed to be unobtrusive. Manna’s drones cruise through the skies at about 262-feet and travel at about 50 miles per hour.

“Our drones are quiet. We have no recording equipment and we don’t collect any customer data,” he says. “That is not going to be an option.”

Manna’s food delivery drones drones travel at around 262-feet and about 50 miles per hour.
Courtesy of Manna

Manna’s launch into the space comes as ground-based food delivery companies are feeling pressure to turn a profit, amid high margins, small ticket delivery orders, and competition for market share.

“What I know is, delivery is not profitable,” Chris Webb, CEO of ChowNow, which provides software and support to restaurants for food delivery, told Fortune last month. “It’s been the same way since these companies started.”

Earlier this month, GrubHub reported a quarterly loss of $0.05 per share, down from $0.19 during the same time last year. Last November, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said Uber Eats would exit markets where it is not one of the top two players within the next 18 months. (A report from investment firm Cowen last year estimated that Uber Eats is losing $3.36 per order.)

Manna’s drone delivery plan costs just a few euros, the same fee charged by Just Eat for ground deliveries. Healy estimates Mannas’s “fully loaded cost” for delivery will be around $1, since it takes the need for hiring human delivery riders out of the equation.

Healy is quick to point out that many gig economy delivery drivers are making at or below minimum wage. Last year, DoorDash faced scrutiny after it was revealed that the company used customer tips to subsidize employee wages.

While it will take time and regulatory approvals in each new area that Manna operates, Healy envisions a future shift to drone deliveries will make takeout more affordable, and in turn both fuel demand and create more food preparation jobs that will allow restaurants to thrive.

“On the actual delivery side, we have safety operators around those drones, managing the loading and unloading,” Healy adds. “It’s not a highly skilled job, but it is an important one.”

Healy’s ultimate ambition is to scale Manna around the world, particularly in less-densely populated areas where food delivery options are scant.

“This technology has the power to transform online food marketplaces, restaurants, dark kitchens, and communities globally,” he says. “We look forward to working with regulators around the world.”

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