Google Now Brings Burritos Via Drone

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    If you’ve imagined things that you thought in your wildest dreams would never come true, think again and picture this. Rising from the treetops, a whirring drone comes into view with its cargo tucked under the wing. It hovers about 25 feet above a bull’s eye on the grass. A white trapezoidal box descends, does a little pirouette, and then lands with a plop. Agents quickly converge on the payload: a braised pork burrito. (Yum)

    In a closely guarded experiment involving the future of transportation, Project Wing — a division of X, founded by Google and now a child of Alphabet Inc. — is airdropping fast food onto the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. The company has invested significantly in drones and predicts that eventually they will serve many important purposes besides delivering burritos — possibly delivering medicine and batteries to cut-off areas after a natural disaster or helping firefighters improve communication and visibility near a wildfire.

    But there is research to be done first, and Project Wing insists it be done in semi-secrecy. It is conducting the tests off the main Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Virginia, at one of the six sites approved by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration for drone testing. Participation is by invitation, though drop-ins are served. Professional photography and videography aren’t allowed.

    Testing out the waters, a couple dozen students and staff gather in Adirondack chairs and at picnic tables beneath white tents. The location, enclosed by safety nets, overlooks the Virginia Smart Road, a 2.2-mile test track managed by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. Diners take a number from a red ticket dispenser and pay an extra $5.99 delivery fee to experience the dawn of unmanned Tex-Mex food delivery. Soon, a drone emerges from the valley below, where it has picked up an order from a hidden Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. food truck.

    Volunteers and staff in gray Project Wing T-shirts keep customers behind the safety netting until their lunch is airborne. Then they are escorted to a holding area about 15 feet from the drop site, where they pause until the cargo has safely landed. A guide escorts them to the box, a moment some capture with a selfie. Inside is a brown bag containing the burrito, still warm and in one piece.

    An engineering student eloquently described how it was a thrill to have the food delivered from a drone. She was so excited that the food came out of the sky from a drone, and now she gets to eat it. The opportunities and possibilities are really endless.

    Afterward, participants are given a Project Wing hat and are encouraged to fill out a questionnaire that asks about the quality of the food and whether they felt safe when the aircraft was near. I believe this to a great idea.

    The questionnaire asks such questions like “How well do the following words describe the service you experienced today?” “Fast?” “Fresh?” “Innovative?”

    It’s Project Wing’s first delivery tests with actual customers in the U.S. Food was selected as a test product, because it is fragile and must be delivered quickly. The company plans to share with the FAA data on the drones’ flight path, timing and navigation, to help the regulator determine how drones should operate in public airspace.

    It’s funny how innovative people are, and then it is used t to deliver food. Take this question into hand. If we aren’t using technology for what it is worth using it for, is it worth using it?” Project Wing isn’t making a profit on the operation. The delivery fee is being donated to a regional food bank, Feeding America Southwest Virginia. Never before have engineering students seen a drone used for food delivery. It’s without a doubt a fun novelty to experience. It would be cool to see it applied to more important things than fast-food delivery, but it is definitely a cool idea and a start.

    For all who are interested with Drones, here are some facts and statistics provided by Expanded Ramblings. The approximate number of drones shipping in 2015 was 700,000. The approximate number of drones purchased for Christmas in 2015 was 400,000 drones. And lastly, the increase in drone sales from 2014-2015 was 63%.

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    I cover technology, utilities and biotechnology for Markets Morning, and I help out occasionally with other industry sectors. I've written about investment and personal finance topics for more than 20 years from a lowly copywriter to editor-in-chief, so I've done a little bit of everything. For what it's worth, I have a BA from Duke University and an MBA from Rollins College. I'm married with one daughter, and that's worth more than everything else put together.

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