It's not quite pie in the sky, but pizza will soon be coming to you by flying robot.

Delivery company Flirtey plans to begin trials of drone deliveries of fast food here next year. As well as trialling pizza drop-offs, the company - founded in Australia but which recently opened a US office - is in talks with potential clients from the online retail and the postal industries.

"We want to treat New Zealand as a test bed where we can perfect this technology ahead of the global roll-out," company chief executive Matt Sweeney told the Herald on Sunday from his office in Reno, Nevada. "I think New Zealand is uniquely placed to be one of the first countries in the world with drone delivery."

Sweeney has been in talks with the Civil Aviation Authority as well as the Ministry of Transport about the plans, and he was confident they would go ahead next year.


Flirtey would not reveal the companies it was partnering with but the trials will happen in in Canterbury.

The drones, also called unmanned aerial vehicles, would eventually be fully autonomous and guided by GPS, although a human operator would always be "in the loop".

Sweeney said New Zealand was a "safer" testing ground than the United States, as the airspace was not as crowded.

New Zealand was the only country in the southern hemisphere with the capacity to conduct such a trial as Flirtey's.

Kelvin Barnsdale, of Canterbury University's spatial engineering research centre, is working to establish two 100sq km drone testing areas in Canterbury where the trials would be carried out.

"They'll be open for industry groups that want to come along and we'd especially be open to international researchers."

The areas, which would have workshops on site, would be restricted to other aircraft while the drones were airborne.

Meanwhile, many of the country's councils are starting to realise the potential of drones.


Linda Bulk, director of Raglan-based aerial robotics company Aeronavics, said she had been in discussion with numerous councils about the potential cost-saving uses of drones.

"It could be for things like property inspection, bridge inspection, building inspections. Even weed detection and eradication - there's a lot of potential."

She imagined that in the next few years all of the country's councils would use the devices.