Operations

Sweetgreen wants to deliver your salads by drone

The fast-casual chain has signed on to test delivery by Zipline drones that promise to be quick, quiet and precise. "The closest thing to teleportation."
Zipline drone
Zipline calls its drones "Zips" and they can be launched from docks that can be installed in any building. /Photo courtesy of Zipline.

Sweetgreen may soon be delivering bowls by drone.

And not just any drone. The fast-casual chain is partnering with a precise autonomous delivery drone made by the San Francisco-based company Zipline, which describes the system as “the closest thing to teleportation ever created.”

These next-generation drones, which the company calls Zips, are designed to fly about 300 feet above the ground and very quietly. According to a press release, they make a sound like rustling leaves.

When they arrive at their destination, these Zips hover while a smaller delivery droid pops out the bottom and maneuvers down a tether to the correct location to gently drop off its package, like on a patio table or front steps of a home. Zipline contends the Zips can complete 10-mile deliveries in about 10 minutes.

Zipline says healthcare companies, like Michigan Medicine and Intermountain Health, have signed on to use the drones to deliver prescriptions. The company’s first customer was the Government of Rwanda, where the delivery system is in use in Kigali.

And restaurants are also interested.

For Sweetgreen, the goal is sustainability. The fast-casual chain has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2027, and delivery by drone is estimated to use 97% less energy than by car, according to Zipline.

Sweetgreen co-founder and CEO Jonathan Neman said in a statement that Zipline’s technology will help the chain give customers what they want, when they want it.

“The future of delivery is faster, more sustainable and creates broader access, all of which provides improved value for our customers,” he said. “We couldn’t be more excited to work with Zipline to complement our delivery strategy.”

When asked for more information, a Sweetgreen spokesperson said the company hopes to launch the service in 2024, but she did not reveal where it might start or whether it has been tested. Guests will be able to order food for drone delivery from any category—salads, bowls or beverages—but not catering.

Zipline says it plans to conduct more than 10,000 test flights using about 100 aircraft this year, before the Zip deployment will occur. The company says it is authorized to conduct commercial drone flights and has FAA approval to enable a “detect and avoid” system.

The drone company estimates 1 million deliveries will be completed by the end of this year, and, by 2025, Zipline expects to be operating more flights annually than most airlines.

Other restaurant chains are also toying with drone delivery, but implementation has proven to be slow. Zipline is among a handful of companies that have approval for commercial delivery.

Chili’s is testing the service with Flytrex in Holly Springs, N.C., for example. Starbucks, Domino’s, Pizza Hut, El Pollo Loco, Walmart and even DoorDash have reportedly tried it.

It will likely be some time before drone delivery is available on a regular basis, and it’s not clear how much the service will cost.

 

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