Aurora Magazine

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Dropping Food from the Sky

Published 05 Jul, 2021 12:39pm
Can Careem’s drone deliveries work in the long run?
Photo: TechJuice
Photo: TechJuice

If you follow Pakistan-related trends on Twitter and Instagram, you probably saw that Careem recently hyped up their customers by testing Pakistan’s first drone-based food delivery system. Although the deliveries lasted only a day, a few lucky customers were selected (based on their location and the restaurants they order from - Broadway Pizza, Espresso and Oh My Grill) to experience this new phenomenon in food delivery. All these customers had to do was tap #khanahungamadeals on the Careem app and were then informed when their delivery would arrive by drone.

According to Nuzair A. Virani, Manager Communications, Careem, although this pilot project lasted only a day and with an extremely limited number of customers and distances covered, the company gathered a lot of data and learning.

The limited delivery radius points to constraints in terms of range and payload capacity. This, however, is not surprising since the type of drone used is the same as the one often used recreationally by amateur film makers and hobbyists and compared to the purpose built delivery drones used by services like Amazon, Careem’s drone leaves much to be desired. Nevertheless, it has to be said that Careem do not shy away from doing things creatively and standing out.

On the regulatory front, Careem will have to deal with licensing, certification and security clearance of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and UAV pilots. Another major hurdle is navigating the tangle of electricity and connectivity cables that cover the city streets like a forest canopy. Finally, Careem drone pilots will probably have to deal with theft and property damage by people wanting to steal/damage a drone just for “shugal/masti”. Therefore, I would not be surprised if the job description of a Careem drone pilot includes: “Must be able to clear CAA examinations, fly through wires and dodge drone thieves.”

While there are many questions regarding the efficacy of a drone-based delivery operation for Pakistani cities, it must be appreciated that Careem was able to change the narrative associated with drones. In Pakistan’s recent history, drones have been a source of destruction on Pakistani soil and this fresh take on drone technology is allowing people to see unmanned aerial vehicles in a constructive way. When asked about how soon Pakistanis can expect a proper drone-based delivery service, Virani says work was still in progress in terms of the feasibility study.

Given the design constraints, I personally feel that it will be difficult for drones to operate in Pakistan as delivery vehicles in the near future, but I also believe that a company like Careem has a track record of solving complex problems, which is why I wish them the best of luck and hope that we get to see more than just a day long PR campaign.

Shaikh Mohammed Yousuf a tech and marketing enthusiast and currently part of the visiting faculty at SZABIST Karachi.