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A drone delivers Pizza Hut orders over central Israel. Photo: Courtesy of Dragontail Systems

A fledgling system north of Tel Aviv has three drones making six test runs a day from a Pizza Hut to designated parking lots, where drivers pick up the meals and deliver them the "last mile."

Why it matters: All signs point to a future in which systems like this are ubiquitous across America, with food and merchandise shuttled overhead to centralized landing hubs (as opposed to your doorstep or balcony).

The big picture: UPS, Alphabet, FedEx, Amazon, Walmart and other giants are pressing forward with plans for delivery-by-drone, a market that Deloitte predicts will represent $115 billion annually by 2035 (if you include cargo drones and urban taxis).

  • "We need flying burgers," Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi was quoted as saying when Uber Eats and McDonald's tried drone delivery in San Diego in 2019.

Momentum is building in the U.S., as are early-days experiments:

  • Verizon and UPS plan to deliver goods by drone to The Villages in Florida.
  • The FAA just gave its first approval to a Massachusetts company to fly fully automated drones (with no pilot steering from the ground).
  • Companies are gearing up to deliver COVID-19 vaccines by drone.

But, but, but: Axios readers aren't thrilled with our drone-filled future, judging from reactions to an Axios article and post that blew up my LinkedIn feed.

  • People remonstrated about noise, privacy, government surveillance, and the potential for package theft, vandalism or even terrorism.

How it works in Israel: For just over a month, Pizza Hut Israel has been working with a restaurant logistics company called Dragontail Systems to test delivery by drone from a single store in Bnei Dror. (The WSJ covered this first.)

  • In June, they plan a commercial rollout involving 12 drones, each with two parachutes (lest they fall and bonk people on the head).
  • So far, weather has been the biggest snag — the drones don't fly in heavy wind or rain.
  • For now, the drones can only carry about 5.5 pounds — "It's about two pizzas and a Coke," Udi Shamai, president of Pizza Hut Israel, told me.
  • The 'za gets packed in a thermal sleeve to keep it warm.

On the plus side: When there's heavy traffic on the ground, the drones will get your pizza there faster, Ido Levanon, founder and CEO of Dragontail Systems, told me.

  • Customers can use a tracker to follow their pizza's progress from oven to air to delivery bike (or car).
  • Levanon envisions U.S. food deliveries soaring over bodies of water — restaurants in New Jersey flying meals across the Hudson River to customers in Manhattan, for instance.

What's next: Dragontail has delivery deals with Papa John's and Sweetgreen.

  • "Pizza is the most challenging" food to airlift, because it's "heavier than sushi, or even burgers, for that matter," Levanon told me.
  • "When it comes to things like salads, we can carry four to five meals at a time, which makes it even more effective."

Go deeper

Jan 29, 2021 - Economy & Business

Transportation's next big thing: flying taxis

Photo: Joby Aviation

The next big thing in transportation could be electric flying taxis — think of a drone crossed with a helicopter — that would ferry people and goods high above congested roadways.

Why it matters: Air taxis are billed as a cheaper, faster, cleaner mode of transportation, and an important link between remote areas and population centers. But there are still technical and regulatory challenges to overcome — not to mention public skepticism.

38 mins ago - World

China and Russia vaccinate the world — for now

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

While the U.S. and Europe focus on vaccinating their own populations, China and Russia are sending millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses to countries around the world.

Why it matters: China's double success in controlling its domestic outbreak and producing several viable vaccines has allowed it to focus on providing doses abroad — an effort that could help to save lives across several continents.

Ina Fried, author of Login
48 mins ago - Technology

Report: China will dominate AI unless U.S. invests more

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photo: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The U.S., which once had a dominant head start in artificial intelligence, now has just a few year's lead on China and risks being overtaken unless government steps in, according to a new report to Congress and the White House.

Why it matters: Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who chaired the committee that issued the report, tells Axios that the U.S. risks dire consequences if it fails to both invest in key technologies and fully integrate AI into the military.