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Drone delivery is giving stadium food a lift

Pilot brings drone delivery to Purdue University’s Alexander Field

The Alexander Field pilot marks the first time drones have delivered food or drinks to a sports venue (Photo: Shutterstock)

If you’re anything like me, then your favorite part of going to a baseball game is grabbing stadium food during the seventh-inning stretch. Sure, the game is great, but it’s tough to compete with bratwurst. The only problem is that the line to get food is often longer than the line to get into the stadium in the first place. But there’s a solution on the horizon — literally.

For the first time in their brief history, drones are delivering food to a sports arena. Through a collaboration between Purdue Athletics, restaurant and hospitality company Levy and drone delivery solution providers Valqari and USOG, fans at Purdue’s Alexander Field, home of the Indiana university’s baseball team, received hot dogs, chips and bottled water — all delivered by drone.

“We get excited for pilots like this, not simply for the possibilities of an innovative technology like drones, but because we learn in the moment,” said Andy Lansing, president and CEO of Levy. “The technology needs to create real value for our fans and better our operations, and we put in this important work testing and learning so that we can truly deliver at scale in the future.”

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Levy provides food and dining services to several U.S. sports and entertainment venues. But to get the Alexander Field pilot off the ground, the company enlisted the help of Chicago-based Valqari and San Diego-based USOG. The two companies partnered up in 2020 and have been collaborating since.

Neither Valqari nor USOG builds its own drones, but both provide solutions that aid in drone delivery. Valqari’s core offerings are tech-enabled drone mailboxes and landing stations that enable a fully autonomous loading and unloading process. The miniature ports also connect to drones via cloud software and include features like heating and cooling.

Valqari’s partner USOG is more focused on the software side. It provides a platform that manages the logistics of drone delivery, giving pilots real-time monitoring and data-gathering capabilities.

Together with DBK Studio, an innovation-driven subsidiary of Levy that works with startups in the food and hospitality industries, Valqari and USOG built a fully autonomous drone delivery system at Purdue’s Alexander Field. The service was piloted to a select group of fans from April 27 through 30.

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The three companies worked together to map out flight paths, facilities, pickup zones and menus. Preset food and drink combos included hot dogs, chips and bottled water. Meals were prepared at nearby Folk Field and picked up by drones equipped with delivery boxes — no pilot or operator necessary.

Once in the air, drones flew across Purdue’s campus to Alexander Field, navigating over soccer fields, parking lots and other pedestrian areas. After the drones landed, Levy employees retrieved orders from the delivery boxes and moved them to a secure pickup locker. There, fans were able to grab their food and beverages whenever they wanted.

“Drone delivery has the potential to enhance the effectiveness of main kitchens across large campuses and remote venues, and expand the ways fans can access the food and beverage they enjoy most at an event. We look forward to building on the learnings from these milestone flights,” Lansing said.

According to a press release, the goal of the Alexander Field pilot was to test user experience, food quality and delivery accuracy. It will be reevaluated this summer with an eye toward expanding to other sports arenas. The service could even potentially show up on college campuses, where drones could deliver from kitchen facilities to dorms and lecture halls.

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Jack Daleo

Jack Daleo is a staff writer for Flying Magazine covering advanced air mobility, including everything from drones to unmanned aircraft systems to space travel — and a whole lot more. He spent close to two years reporting on drone delivery for FreightWaves, covering the biggest news and developments in the space and connecting with industry executives and experts. Jack is also a basketball aficionado, a frequent traveler and a lover of all things logistics.