In a few months, if you happen to live in the Mission District in San Francisco and need a last-minute delivery from a local drugstore, you might be able to call up a drone to fly it to your apartment.
QuiQui (pronounced "quicky"), a new startup, is taking advantage of a recent court decision that made commercial drones legal to fly below 500 feet. The service will pick up small deliveries—say, a bottle of medicine that you don’t want to pick up because you’re sick in bed—and bring it to your front door for just $1.
The drones will fly high enough to avoid trees and power lines, and will take advantage of the neighborhood’s relatively flat landscape. "The Mission is pretty devoid of tall buildings, so we don’t have to worry about navigating dusty alleys between skyscrapers, or wondering whether there’s window washing on a certain day—all the logistics of tall buildings," says Joshua Ziering, QuiQui’s founder.
Though his day job is unrelated to drones, Ziering has been experimenting with building and flying small objects for most of his life. "I’ve been an aviation fanatic since I was three years old," he says. "One of my first words was airplane." Now that the technology has improved enough to make drone delivery possible, Ziering wants to jump to market.
He and his partners are working to improve consumer-grade drones. "We want to make something more reliable and with higher redundancies than your average garden variety drone," he explains. "Just based on the flight time that we’re anticipating alone, we want to make sure that we have failsafe systems in place. Each delivery might only be seven or eight minutes, but if it’s doing it day after day after day, those hours start to build up."
In order to thwart potential drone thieves (the company has already heard from people claiming they’ll fire up potato cannons to take down the drones and steal them), QuiQui will always keep their fleet at least 20 feet up in the air. "We’re not going to be landing, we’re going to be dropping things," Ziering says. "That’s why it lends itself particularly well to pharmaceuticals. The tiny bottle of antibiotics is not going to hurt you if it hits you in the head."
When the drone arrives in front of your front door, you’ll pull up an app, swipe to verify the order, and the drone will drop the package into your waiting hands. "Upon delivery, we want it to beep at you like the Roadrunner," Ziering says. "Swipe to drop, here’s your toothbrush, then "beep beep" and it flies away."
Initially, the company plans to keep the product selection simple. "It's going to be a relatively limited number of SKUs to start—it’s not going to be 12 different types of NyQuil and eight different types of Preparation H," Ziering says. Some orders may be pre-packaged so they can be delivered even faster.
The delivery cost will be cheap to start because QuiQui plans to use the first experiments in the Mission as a way to test the market. The company will be considering things like population density of the neighborhood, average age of its population, the friendliness of the terrain, and the number of flyable days a year.
"A city with a lot of tall buildings that has a lot of snow would probably not be viable for our business model," he says. "Once we have the formula, we'll figure out where we want to expand."