Yesterday, my friends came over for dinner. Uninspired to cook and unexcited to go out, we decided to order in from UberEats. We sipped on Pinot Noir and munched on Pringles, waiting eagerly for Naan and Chicken Tikka Masala from this new restaurant called Chulha Chaunka.
We waited for an hour and a half, till we received a notification that our order had been canceled. I called the restaurant, they said the delivery boy had left ages ago and they knew nothing of it. Then I called the UberEats helpline. They found out that the delivery boy had a flat tyre on the way and had to cancel the order as a result. Rest assured, your credit card shall not be charged; the service operator told me.
But he missed the point entirely. For me, it wasn’t just about losing S$60 anymore, it was about a bunch of hungry guests shuffling around impatiently at 11 pm. For the delivery boy, it meant an exasperating flat tyre with the only insurance from his employer being the hope of stern warning. For UberEats, this could have meant another angry tweet from a loyal customer. And for the 3-month old restaurant, let’s just say that things weren’t off to the best start.
The damage was obvious, but the cause wasn’t. Who was to blame? The actual glitch was the flat tyre, something that couldn’t have been consciously prevented.
There seems to be a recurring trend in all failed food deliveries: a lack of control over the actual problem and an ensuing, absolutely futile blame game between the various parties involved.
The way I see it, it’s the same old shit that stirs up when too many humans are involved. Miscommunication, unforeseen circumstances and we go berserk. And so here’s how I propose to change things: with food 3D printers and drones.
Let’s rewind a little to see how this would actually work. Chulha Chaunka, the afore-mentioned restaurant, owns several assorted food 3D printers. So does every other restaurant registered with UberEats. As a user, I place my order of Naan and Chicken Tikka masala. The moment I click Submit, the order is automatically transmitted to Chulha Chaunka’s control system. The system assigns the printing of Naan and Chicken Tikka Masala to the printers responsible for printing each of these. When the order is ready, the control system pings UberEats.
Enter the drone delivery service, administered by UberEats. The delivery drone arrives on site and collects the order, guided by a QR code or reference number. You could add in computer vision, to check if all food items for that order are present in the desired quantities.
The UberEats drone then makes its way to the address it sees on the app, which in this case is mine. Within 30 minutes, my friends and I have graduated from Pinot Noir to Chicken Tikka Masala. We praise Chulha Chaunka, then we (I can’t guarantee this) think fondly of whoever-the-current-CEO-of-Uber-is, for UberEats. Everyone is happy. Except for the delivery drone. It feels nothing, but we don’t really care.
Now I know it’s not nearly as simple as that. What I just described comes with a whole set of limitations. To begin with, I know what you’re thinking: chefs are going to be rendered jobless. The robots are coming oh-mah-Gawd! But the way I see it, the printers could stick to food production, which is basically following a set of instructions that forms a recipe. Chefs would move to more creative roles, innovating and experimenting with recipes. Something they’d probably be happier doing. They’d all get to be research chefs.
Even with regards to technical feasibility, it doesn’t sound so far-fetched. There are already printers like Foodini that allow you to print Pizza, Burgers and Chocolate. Not long from now, we’re going to be able to print Hummus, Burrito Bowls, Fish and Chips or anything else with a definite recipe (preachers of AI, hold the thought for another discussion another day). Drone delivery services are already happening, with local eatery Timbre having declared it’s intentions to launch Flying Waiters very soon.
The only real concern I foresee is that of drone traffic management. But the problem is not unsolvable, what with the wide-ranging value of drones far over-powering seemingly petty, logistic issues.
The day is not far when the inefficiencies of modern-day food delivery services and mass culinary production give way to a fully integrated, automated and seamless solution.
Yes, your food will be printed by a robot. Yes, it will be delivered to your doorstep by a robot. Yes, it will taste just as good. And yes, you’ll love it.