Wednesday, May 24, 2023
HomeArtificial IntelligenceI ordered a bubble tea by drone in Shenzhen

I ordered a bubble tea by drone in Shenzhen

I discovered that the truth of drone supply continues to be removed from supreme, and folks could also be turned away by the steep studying curve. However on the similar time, it was an thrilling expertise—the prospect of routine drone supply feels extra real looking than it’s ever been.

Meituan at the moment operates greater than 100 drones from 5 supply hubs (or launchpads) within the metropolis. Collectively, they accomplished over 100,000 orders in 2022. Whereas the platform itself can ship mainly something, from dinner to medication to recent flowers to digital gadgets, the drones are principally used for meals and drinks. 

Why? As a result of Chinese language folks care in regards to the temperature of their meals, Mao Yinian, head of Meituan’s drone supply division, tells me. “Individuals care about it drastically—whether or not they can obtain a scorching meal or a cup of iced bubble tea in time. However in relation to different [types of products], folks don’t thoughts if it arrives half-hour quicker or slower,” he says. Since Meituan’s drone flight routes are all automated—and the drones by no means run into visitors—it’s simpler to exactly management the time it takes for the meal to be delivered. The drones normally arrive inside seconds of the estimated time.

To have a cup of bubble tea delivered precisely once you need it? As a bubble tea fanatic, all I can say is signal me up. However after I tried it out, I came upon it’s not so simple as it sounds.

The primary impediment: the drones don’t ship to the doorstep. As an alternative, they ship to one in every of a dozen pickup areas scattered across the metropolis—vending-machine-size kiosks that operate as each a touchdown pad for the drone and storage to your bundle in case you’re late to choose it up. 

A yellow-and-white Meituan pickup kiosk in front of trees. A man is standing nearby.
A Meituan pickup kiosk on the entrance of a residential neighborhood.


Right here started my first try. After wanting up all Meituan pickup areas on the map, I selected one close to the subway station I used to be at. I ordered an iced coconut tea latte, which was particularly marked within the app as being deliverable by a drone. I paid and started ready in pleasure.

Nope. I instantly bought a textual content telling me that “due to a system improve,” my order could be delivered by a human courier as a substitute. Was it due to the unhealthy climate? There had been a rainstorm in Shenzhen that morning, and the sky was nonetheless lined with darkish clouds. However after I checked with a consultant at Meituan, she mentioned the drones have been working. 

It seems, she advised me, I had ordered from a restaurant in a distinct district, and there have been no drone routes that flew from there to the kiosk I needed to ship my order to. There’s no solution to know that from the app, she mentioned. 



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