Mind blown: Alphabet drones to deliver Chipotle burritos

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — No need to pinch yourself. This is not a dream. Google parent Alphabet really is delivering Chipotle burritos by drone.

This month, a small group of hungry students and employees will get their burrito orders lowered on a winch from a hovering drone on the Virginia Tech campus, making the drone-delivered burrito of geeky fantasies a reality — at least for a chosen few. Lunch will be prepared by Chipotle at a nearby food truck.

This is Alphabet's first test of drone delivery on the U.S. public. It's being conducted by Project Wing, part of X, the Alphabet lab that cooks up experimental projects for the Internet giant. Project Wing will run hundreds of flights and deliveries at a test site approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Project Wing is working with Virginia Tech which is part of the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership, one of six national test sites for unmanned aerial vehicles. The site is closed and not open to the public.

"We want to learn how people feel when they’re receiving a package by air, and taking someone’s time and/or money changes things more than a little. And we want to feel the pressure of unexpected circumstances that show us how we can get better at loading and managing a fleet of planes," says Astro Teller, X's "captain of moonshots."

Project Wing says it has conducted thousands of test flights in private airfields with a prototype drone.

"Our goal is to maximize learning, and food delivery poses a rich set of operating challenges that few other testing scenarios have. A lunchtime rush of burrito orders will crank up the operational pressure of multiple orders coming in during a short period of time. We’ll get to test how to package sensitive cargo and how well it endures the journey (after all, everyone wants their meal hot and in the right shape)," Teller said. "In future tests, we could add a broader range of items, like drinks, which will push us to handle more weight, keep packages carefully balanced, and manage combinations of items on a single flight."

Amazon.com, Wal-Mart and other companies are banking that drone deliveries of products will eventually become an everyday part of life. Last month the FAA introduced new regulations for commercial drones but did not greenlight flights.

Alphabet says drone deliveries could reduce carbon emissions and  perform vital tasks including the delivery of critical supplies to cut-off areas during natural disaster change the way people shop

Project Wing will gather data on the operation to share with the FAA in hopes of getting the agency to approve commercial use of drones for package and food delivery and create new rules for those deliveries.

"Last year while discussing the entrepreneurial spirit at Virginia Tech, I jokingly speculated we might one day have quadcopters delivering ramen noodles around campus — apparently I wasn’t off by much," Virginia Tech President Tim Sands said in a statement.

USA TODAY


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