Drone delivery company Flyby has raised $4 million and is testing its technology to deliver juice, salads and sushi.
The LA-based startup was founded in 2020 by engineers from Yale University, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Anduril, a defense contractor specializing in AI-powered surveillance systems. Flyby plans to use the pre-seed funding to help make its drones more autonomous.
It’s also working with three restaurant brands—Nekter Juice Bar, Mad Greens and Tokyo Joe’s—to test its drones in Mesa and Gilbert, Ariz. Customers can get food delivered by drone for a flat fee of $3 and in an average of under four minutes, Flyby said.
The pilot area outside of Phoenix covers a roughly 1-mile radius and “several thousand” customers.
Flyby believes its drones are faster and more cost-effective than car-based delivery.
“You don’t have to be a multibillion-dollar corporation or a global military superpower to reap the economic benefits of autonomous drones,” said founder and CEO Jason Lu in a statement. “Our AI-powered autonomous systems allow any merchant to dramatically reduce the cost of delivery to their customers.”
The drones are also designed specifically for delivery. They are able to gently lower packages to customers’ doorsteps without upsetting the contents, even for fragile items like smoothies.
But they are not yet fully autonomous. The drones have reached Level 3 autonomy, which means they can fly by themselves with human oversight. The next step is Level 4, which requires even less human intervention. The company believes the fresh capital will help it get there.
The funding round was led by MaC Venture Capital. Weekend Fund, Anthemis and Evening Fund also contributed, along with a number of individual investors.
“We saw in the Flyby team the tenacity and technical rigor to execute on a game-changing idea,” said Adrian Fenty, founding managing partner at MaC, in a statement. “We’re excited to watch drone delivery transform retail over the next five years.”
Drone delivery for restaurants is in its earliest stages, as drones still face strict federal regulations and tech limitations. But the potential for faster and more affordable deliveries has intrigued some restaurants. Sweetgreen, Chili’s and El Pollo Loco have tested drone delivery, and there are a number of drone suppliers jockeying for restaurant customers.