Food Delivery by Drone Is Just Part of Daily Life in Shenzhen

The Chinese delivery giant Meituan flies drones between skyscrapers to kiosks around the city.

Many big corporations have had their eyes on drone delivery: Amazon first proposed doing it in 2013, but its progress has been limited by regulations and a lack of demand. Wing, owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, has had more success, operating drone deliveries on three continents. And Walmart is backing several drone startups to experiment with delivering its products.

What differentiates Meituan from these American peers is that it has chosen to offer drone delivery in what is potentially the most challenging environment: dense urban neighborhoods. It’s an approach that makes sense in China, where most people live in high-rise apartment buildings in populous cities, and many of them order food delivery on a daily basis.

To make the service work in a dense city, Meituan doesn’t have the drones deliver directly to your doorstep. Instead, the company has set up pickup kiosks close to residential or office buildings. Drones drop off deliveries at the kiosks, which can hold several packages at once. The process may be less convenient for customers, but it allows every drone to fly a predetermined route, from one launchpad to one kiosk, making the task of navigating urban areas much easier.

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