Drone-flown deliveries of groceries will start Wednesday in an area within a mile of Kroger’s Centerville store, signaling a new era in flight and grocery shopping.
The Kroger Co. has been working with a Monroe company, Drone Express, to deliver groceries via drones, and actual flights responding to customer orders will start happening this week.
Erin Rolfes, a spokeswoman for Kroger, on Monday said drone flights have been tested for several days, and deliveries will be ready to go on Wednesday.
For the first pilot program, no charge will be levied for these flights, Rolfes said. But that’s temporary. At some point, there will be charges, but Rolfes did not have a date for that.
Drone orders can be made through a web site, Kroger.com/dronedelivery. Deliveries will be scheduled first come, first served.
“While of course we’re all very excited about the drone piece, I think it’s one part of a larger narrative of how Kroger is really reacting to what customers are asking for and giving them that product anytime that they want, anywhere that they are,” Rolfes said.
The drone can carry only about five pounds worth of items. Pilots will oversee the drones as they fly to customer’s homes in the prescribed area around the Marketplace store at 1095 S. Main St.
“Right now, per FAA guidance, we’re only flying the drone to deliver within one mile of the store,” Rolfes said.
Kroger and Drone Express, part of New Jersey-based TELEGRID Technologies Inc., last month first announced the pilot program to offer grocery delivery via autonomous drones.
“Everything’s going well,” said Beth Flippo, principal engineer for the Drone Express delivery service. “Wednesday we are good to go.”
The company has about 10 pilots working in Monroe and Centerville at the moment, Flippo said. The pilots work in shifts at the Centerville store, covering nights and weekends, she said.
The problem of course is economies of scale here. Not every Kroger is going to be able to afford 10 drone pilots and the requisite support staff required for a one-mile delivery radius. I would only expect this to be in the nicest neighborhoods with the kind of area that can support the delivery fees, which are going to be significant when rolled out, and even then, you're going to see NIMBY folks go berserk trying to keep drones out of their neighborhood the first time a pilot drops 4 pounds of groceries on someone's car, or a drone gets vandalized, smashed, or stolen while on the ground.
No, this technology is going to get shelved until they can replace the pilots with computers at best, and at worst it'll go like the way driverless vehicles are going now: nowhere because of lawsuits, regulatory rage at Big Tech, and because the technology itself is still decades away, and the regulatory framework even further.
If we have any readers in Centerville, let me know how this is going.