Slurpee by drone? 7-Eleven delivers junk food via autonomous flying robot

The demonstration is about much more than flying Slurpees. 7-Eleven partnered with Flirtey to complete the first FAA-approved autonomous drone delivery from a store to a customer's home.
Written by Kelly McSweeney, Contributor

Image: Flirtey

The US lags behind other countries when it comes to adopting commercial drones, but even as regulators remain cautious, robotic delivery services are simply inevitable. Now, a new milestone has been achieved that takes advantage of two American specialties: junk food and laziness. 7-Eleven partnered with Flirtey and the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems (NIAS) to accomplish the first fully autonomous drone delivery from a store to a customer's home.

A drone flew approximately one mile to deliver a coffee, donuts, candy, a chicken sandwich, and -- wait for it -- a Slurpee to a customer's home via an autonomous flying robot. "Flirtey drones can of course travel much longer ranges, but this delivery was focused on completing the first fully autonomous drone delivery from a store to a customer's home," Flirtey's CEO Matt Sweeny tells ZDNet.

This event is the latest in a string of historic drone deliveries (i.e., savvy marketing moves) by Flirtey. The start-up has also recently conducted the first ship-to-shore drone delivery and demonstrated the first FAA-approved autonomous drone delivery to an urban area in the US.

Compared to Flirtey's last demonstration -- which included bottled water, emergency food, and a first aid kit -- convenience store snacks seem a bit frivolous. But it's easy to imagine just about any drone delivery service quickly becoming popular with busy American customers. The Reno resident who received the delivery said:

My wife and I both work and have three small children ages 7, 6 and 1. The convenience of having access to instant, 24/7 drone delivery is priceless. It's amazing that a flying robot just delivered us food and drinks in a matter of minutes.

Ultimately, the demonstration was about much more than flying Slurpees. "This delivery required special flight planning, risk analysis, and detailed flight procedures ensuring residential safety and privacy were equally integrated," said Chris Walach, director of operations for (NIAS), in a statement. The UAV used precision GPS to autonomously navigate to the customer's home, where it hovered over the backyard and lowered each package.

Sweeney tells us:

This was the first step in a partnership between Flirtey and 7-Eleven to provide drone delivery to nearby customers, and expand drone delivery nationwide going forward. 7-Eleven is largest chain in the convenience retailing industry with more than 10,700 stores in North America (compared to Amazon, which has fewer than 100 distribution centers nationwide), which enables Flirtey to expand drone delivery to homes all across the country.

Still, let's not get too excited. Although it was technically an autonomous delivery, the drone only flew one mile, and in accordance with FAA regulations, it remained within the operator's line of sight. Just like Amazon and other eager companies, 7-Eleven and Flirtey will have to wait for looser regulations before drone delivery services become practical.

Editorial standards