Your takeaway curry may well be flown out to you by drone, starting from next year, if Manna.aero is able to roll out its airborne food delivery service as planned.
The Irish startup has now pulled in a total of $5.2m in seed funding — including $3m from US-based Dynamo VC, it was announced today — to help it launch drone food deliveries in Europe and North America in early 2020. Manna also has funding from Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund.
Our intention with Manna is to make drone delivery as pervasive as running water.
“We are on the cusp of the fifth industrial revolution — powered by drones — and our intention with Manna is to make drone delivery as pervasive as running water,” says Bobby Healy, founder of Manna.
Food delivery is a convenient place to start the revolution. Manna is offering restaurants and dark kitchens drone delivery as a service, promising them a three-minute delivery within a two-mile radius, for less than the cost of road-based deliveries. Manna will operate the drone fleet and take fees of around €3 to €4 per delivery. Road-based delivery companies like Deliveroo are understood to charge restaurants around 25% to 30% of the value of each order.
Drone deliveries are potentially cheaper to run than road-based deliveries as a single drone operator could handle around 10 drones at a time, says Healy.
He says the idea for Manna came to him one night when he was sitting in his garden with a hankering for chips. Chips, he says, are one of the items that don’t work well for conventional food deliveries as they tend to lose their crispness during transport — after half an hour on the back of a delivery bike they have gone limp and soggy. Healy wondered if drones could be a way of speeding things up.
In addition to being faster, Healy says drones food deliveries are potentially “greener” as they would take traffic off the roads and they would also prevent accidents among delivery drivers.
Aviation authorities around the world are starting to allow trials of drone deliveries. Wing, the drone delivery service owned by Alphabet, for example, has started offering commercial services in Virginia, Canberra and Helsinki. Manna is currently conducting test flights in certain parts of Ireland and is hoping to get approval from the Irish Aviation Authority to fly more widely by March.
Earlier this year the startup signed a partnership with Flipdish, which operates an online delivery platform for restaurants and takeaway providers in Ireland.
Manna’s drones will not land, but will deliver food by lowering it down onto the customer’s back garden or patio, or on top of their car in front of their house. High-rise apartment buildings might be more challenging to deliver to, Healy admits — they won’t deliver to a balcony or open window — but if drone deliveries become more common, some apartments may create a dedicated delivery spot for residents.
While the drone delivery services may compete with the like of Deliveroo, JustEast and Glovo, they may also help expand the home delivery market to more sparsely-populated suburban and rural areas where it has not been economically viable up to now.
Healy already has a strong track record as an entrepreneur. He built Eland Tecnologies, a travel software company, and sold it for a multimillion-dollar sum in 2003. He then went on to found CarTrawler, which connects airlines and travel operators to car rental companies.